Second Volume of the Berlin Tunnel Trilogy
To Be Published: September 8, 2020
From Amazon bestsellers list author Roger L. Liles comes the second volume of his Cold War trilogy—THE COLD WAR BEGINS. The setting is war-ravaged Berlin in late 1946. Spies from both sides begin to move with relative ease throughout a Germany occupied by British, French, American and Russian military forces. Kurt Altschuler, our hero, soon becomes one of them.
While working behind enemy lines as an OSS agent in France during World War II, Kurt learns that intelligence collection involves both exhilarating and dangerous encounters with the enemy. He relished every moment he spent as part of the vanguard confronting the Nazis.
That war has been over for 18 months when he is offered a job as a CIA deep-cover agent in the devastated and divided city of Berlin. He jumps at the opportunity, but is concerned that his guise as an Associated Press News Agency reporter will offer little action. He need not worry. Soon, he is working undercover, deep inside of Russian-controlled southeastern Germany. Eventually, KGB agents waylay him and tear his car and luggage apart. His chauffeur is beaten. He is threatened with prison, torture and death.
Enter Erica Hoffmann, a very attractive, aspiring East German archeology student. Any relationship between an undercover CIA agent and an East German woman is strictly forbidden; she might be a KGB or Stasi agent or operative. But he cannot help himself—he has fallen hard for her. Kurt strives assiduously to maintain their tempestuous, star-crossed relationship.
Eventually, Kurt works to counter the efforts of Russian and East German spies, especially a mole who is devastating Western Intelligence assets throughout Europe. He also must work to identify and expose enemy spies who have penetrated the very fabric of the West German government and society. He frequently observes to others that: “the spy business is like knife fighting in a dark closet; you know you’re going to be cut up, you just don’t know how bad.”
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Almost one hundred years of relative world peace was shattered in 1914 and again in 1939 with two devastating world wars. Tens of millions of military personnel and civilians on both sides were killed. By 1945, most of the world’s population was exhausted by war and craved peace. Over 11 million displaced survivors roamed Europe in search of a meal and shelter.
Because Germany was viewed as being directly responsible for both conflicts, the Allies demanded it surrender unconditionally. In May 1945, the Four Powers—the French, British, Americans, and Russians—began to take over their agreed-to areas of occupation in that country.
Joseph Stalin, the leader of the Soviet Union, decided to take advantage of the instability caused by the second war to further the communist goal of world domination. When hostilities ended, Soviet troops occupied most of central Europe. Using rigged elections, palace coups, outright force, and even murder, the Soviets began imposing communist regimes on Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, and of course, East Germany.
In his Iron Curtain Speech, Winston Churchill noted that a new era had started less than a year after World War II hostilities ended. This new era would last for the next forty-three years. It is best characterized as a confrontation between two radically different political, social, and economic ideologies for control of the world—America and the Free World versus Russia and the Communist World. This conflict is known in history as THE COLD WAR.
It was given this name, because with few exceptions—Korea and Vietnam—this was not a shooting war. America and her allies sought to contain communist expansion using every means short of war. In addition to a massive arms buildup, this is the era of spy versus spy. Much like a chess match, one side would seek an advantage and the other would attempt to counter that move with one of its own.
Conversations between characters in this novel are in both English and German. In English, contractions are used for informal conversations and there are no familiar verb forms. In German, there are no contractions and the familiar form is used in everyday conversations with close business associates, friends, and relatives. The main characters in this novel speak both English and German fluently and switch from one to the other. Thus, if a conversation appears stiff and formal, it is in German. The presence of contractions in a sentence means that they are conversing in English.
Wednesday, November 13, 1946
Four hours after my propeller-driven, British Overseas Airlines DC-3 left Heathrow, it descended into Gatow Airport in the British Zone of Occupation. The cloud cover cleared as the aircraft passed over the familiar sights of the River Havel and the Wannsee.
The AP’s Berlin photographer, Ben Stevens, greeted me at the bottom of the metal stairs, “You must be Kurt Altschuler—Welcome to Berlin.”
“Thanks. I don’t know if they told you but I was born and raised here in Berlin. I’m anxious to see the city.”
“You’ll be disappointed. Central Berlin is still a mess. I’ve reserved a room for you in a pensione in Charlottenburg. Owners of those larger houses and mansions have been forced to take in boarders or divide them into small apartments. The furnished apartments I checked out for you were expensive and fairly shabby.”
After we retrieved my luggage, Ben hailed a taxi. Soon he and the driver were negotiating the fare. The driver said, “Elf zigaretten—Eleven cigarettes.”
They finally settled on eight as a fair price.
“I’ve read that the Reichsmarks are essentially worthless and everyone demands American cigarettes as a medium of exchange.”
“American-made Chesterfields, Lucky Strikes, and Camels are worth the most,” Ben replied. “British Players are a close second. The current going rate is seven Reichsmarks per cigarette. So, we’re giving the taxi driver the equivalent of 77 marks for the 20-mile ride into central Berlin. As you can tell, each mark isn’t worth much.”
“How did cigarettes become the medium of exchange?”
“A significant part of the German population smokes and they are only allowed to purchase forty cigarettes a month at the rationed price—so cigarettes are in significant demand on the black market.”
“How did the Reichsmark become so valueless?” I asked.
“At the Potsdam conference, the four victorious powers agreed to use the old Reichsmark as the medium of exchange in all of occupied Germany. In a gesture of goodwill, some American idiot gave the Russians a set of Reichsmark printing plates. They have been using the money they print to pay for everything—tens of billions are now in circulation and no government is guaranteeing its value—as a result, Marks are almost worthless.
Berliners in our zone are allowed to purchase 800 calories worth of near-starvation rations at low fixed prices, but they must barter for enough food to survive. So, they trade antiques, cameras, watches, jewelry, silver, and fine china for cigarettes, the de facto local currency.”
“And the cigarettes are straight from the American Post Exchange?”
“Yeah. One of our soldiers can buy a carton of 200 cigarettes for a dollar at the PX and sell it for around 1,000 marks. He can then take the marks and exchange them at the American Express Bank on their bases for $100, which he can ship back to the States in a good old American Postal Money Order. Every month, three times the monthly pay of all of the American military personnel in the occupation forces are being shipped back to the States.”
“So, the black market is where everything is bartered or traded for the lowly cigarette?”
“I don’t smoke and didn’t think about bringing any with me.”
“Don’t worry. I have a friend who’ll supply both of us,” Ben offered.
Our taxi sped into central Berlin on one of the autobahns Hitler had built ten years earlier for the 1936 Olympics. Occasionally, we would have to avoid debris from a destroyed overpass or slow for a hastily repaired section of the road, but otherwise, traffic was light and our trip into the city was quick.
I thought back over the events of the last month and how I’d ended up with a cover as an Associated Press (AP) reporter. My German language skills and a CIA generated resume recounting my exploits as a U.S. Army Information Officer on the front lines in Europe got me the job in Berlin. Only two people in the States knew I worked for the CIA. For my protection, I never went near CIA Headquarters in Washington.
On successive days, I had meetings in New York with a senior CIA agent in a Roosevelt Hotel room, and the AP’s European News Chief at their office in Rockefeller Plaza. They both gave me essentially the same instruction—”find out what is going on over there and report it back to us.” I had to find out what the Russian military, civilian authorities, and spies were doing, as well as cover the political and economic news in central Europe. Sources and documentation were paramount for both.
Ben interrupted my reverie by pointing out, “As you can see, the west side of Berlin suffered little damage; the bombing and shelling focused on the government and industrial facilities in the central and eastern parts of the city.”
Once we left the autobahn, I began to recognize streets and eventually asked the driver, “Please turn right at the next corner and drive slowly down this street.”
As we neared my old home, the neighborhood looked the same. Relieved, memories came flooding back—learning to ride a bicycle down the sidewalk along here and playing soccer with my buddy, Jacob, on his front lawn over there.
A minute later, I asked the driver to stop. It was almost surreal— except for the façade, my home was just a pile of burned-out rubble, while the houses on either side were fine.
For years, I’d yearned to return to the vibrant city I’d known in my youth. Now I sat in stunned silence while the taxi drove us to my nearby pensione. Thomas Wolfe’s rumination was correct; there is an end to all things, no matter how much we want to hold on to them, “You Can’t Go Home Again”.
About the Author
Roger L. Liles decided he had to earn a living after a BA and graduate studies in Modern European History. He went back to school and eventually earned an MS in Engineering from the University of Southern California in 1970.
In the 1960s, he served as an Air Force Signals Intelligence Officer in Turkey and Germany and eventually lived in Europe for a total of eight years. He worked in the military electronics field for forty years—his main function was to translate engineering jargon into understandable English and communicate it to senior decision-makers in the government.
Now retired after working for forty years as a senior engineering manager and consultant with a number of aerospace companies, he spends his days writing. His first novel, which was published in late 2018 was titled The Berlin Tunnel—A Cold War Thriller. His second novel The Cold War Begins was published in late 2020 and is the second volume in his planned The Cold War Trilogy. This trilogy is based on extensive research into Berlin during the spy-versus-spy era which followed World War II and his personal experience while living and working in Europe. He is in the process of writing its third volume of the trilogy which will be titled The Berlin Tunnel—Another Crisis and takes the story into 1962 and the era of the Cuban Missile Crisis.