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Ice Cream in Hell

Just woolgathering today; remember things past. I think the elections and all the hoopla surrounding them are starting to get to me. We watch the prime-time news bits and even listen to the arguments, but sometimes we lose focus on the importance of these events. The world changes because of these elections.

Small stories and great stories. Here's a small story:

It's been nearly twenty years since the day I visited Hell.

Well, actually, the town name was Holle. (Umlang over the 'O'.) Southern Germany, near the Checz border, pre-unification.

Part of my platoon was on an orientation tour of THE WALL. Yeah, that wall. Holle was the last little town outside the five kilometer zone before you reached it.

We'd been advised to strip down our uniforms of all rank insignia and we placed duct tape over our name and unit patches. We rode in a tour bus, much like you see full of tourists in any county. You know the ones: Big, cushioned seates; lavatories that flushed water more blue than any Smurf was ever drawn. We even had our cameras.

Why not? It wasn't every day that you and a bunch of your eighteen year old buddies got to go to hell and back.

It wasn't what I expected, I'll tell you that much.

A small river, maybe fifty feet across . . .now that I think about it, it was more like a moat: stagnant, very slow moving. After the river, a fence. A very tall fence. The consentina wire on the top was bent toward the other side. Small round balls peppered the other side of the fence.

Hand grenades.

There was no question as to the way it was designed. There was no question that it wasn't designed to keep anyone OUT.

Billboards loomed on both banks. On the east bank, they proclaimed the eternal friendship of the Eastern Bloc countries.

On the west side, they espoused ideals such as, "One Germany, Forever!"

Stone towers lined the far bank, behind the fence, every two hundred meters or so. In the tower, a boy about my age stood and took pictures of me, while I took pictures of him. We both had very good lenses.

I stared at the scene around me, and when the full weight of the political scenario that created such a scene hit me, I did what any sane human being would do.

I chuckled. I tried my best to contain it. I really did. This was a serious place. Hundreds of people had died trying to escape from behind this wall. Soviet gunships stood by to execute anyone else making the attempt within minutes.

But I couldn't help myself. The absurdity of it all, the surreal nature of this place, not far from the end of the world, caused me to laugh my ass off.

I pulled my camera up to look at the guard on the other side. His camera pointed straight at me.

He was laughing just as hard as me.

Two eighteen year old boys, each trained to fire rifles at sillouettes of the others uniforms, stood across a barrier of politics and grenades and landmines and propaganda and shared a laugh with each other.

Tommorow we might be called upon to kill each other, but today we were going to laugh.

My group left the wall soon after. We stopped in Holle on our way back.

I bought an ice cream sandwich and ate it next to a sign proclaiming the city name.

Ice cream in Hell.

It was the only thing I could think of that would match the surreal nature of the day. If I remember right, I managed to eat the entire thing before any of it melted.

The devil was not pleased.

Joseph Haines, signing off from The Edge of the Abyss.

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