It was summer. It was hot. It was Friday night in 1953. My friends and I boarded the bus downtown to our local YMCA and scampered down the outside stairs to the basement Swing Haven. It was the place to be. The rainbow-lit juke box would be blaring and swinging with Dean Martin, Perry Como, Les Paul and Mary Ford, Eddy Fisher and Hank Williams. We could count on it. Our teenage hearts were pounding with excitement as we entered the darkened abyss.
Duck-tailed boys on one side and poodle skirts and pony tails on the other. The biggest worry for us girls was that we would be left standing alone and not get picked to dance.
Basically, what I am trying to say is that, other than being rejected by the opposite sex, we had so few fears in those days. We rode the bus alone at night and walked home on dimly lit streets and came home to unlocked doors. No cell phones or alarms. My parents never worried that I would be anything but safe in Steubenville in 1953.
At the same time a world away in Berlin, my pen pal Ursula, was living an entirely different life.
Dear Sandra, Berlin, 7th Juli 1953
I have the letter from June 18th not can send to you. Here in the sovjet-sector from Berlin we had a big demonstration of all people here. I send now the letter from the west-sector (american-sector). I hope very, that you now became it. Escuse me, that is so a long time continues.
Please write me directly, therewith I wait that the post goes. The next letter send me please to my aunt in the west-sector of Berlin.
from Ursula Thie
On June 16, 1953 construction workers on Stalinallee in East Berlin downed their tools and went on strike. The initial strike spread quickly: by the morning of June 17th 40,000 demonstrators were marching in East Berlin, with a wave of similar strikes and protests recorded in numerous cities.
By the afternoon, the situation had escalated to such an extent that Soviet tanks had rolled out onto the streets of Berlin, the conflict leaving more than 40 dead and 400 injured. By the evening it was over. Seven hundred protestors were arrested for their involvement. The level of discontent took both the East German authorities and the Soviets by surprise. And people like Ursula were caught in the middle just because she lived in a sector given to the Soviets.
Ursula lived through the violent fall of Berlin in 1945, loosing her father. The Soviet Army held little interest in taking prisoners, which seemingly played well into the German mentality of “fighting to the last”.For her hard times were a well-etched part of her 17 year old life so far. She seemed to take it strangely in stride.
The letter I received from her written during the uprising talks matter-of-factly about the mini-opera houses, cinemas and her life living in the heart of ‘the chief city’ of Germany. In closing, she notes that in Germany the modern music of bogies, bops, and other dances grows. Jazz has only found ‘some friends’. They like waltzes, fox trots, polkas and tangos.
Little did we both know that the world would in time become smaller and smaller with an internet click melding each civilization and one another.