UNI Professor Was A Covert Courier In Berlin

Nov 8, 2019

UNI professor Kenneth Atkinson visited the site of the Berlin Wall last September. From 1984 to 1987 he was a secret messenger for the Berlin Brigade.
Credit Ken Atkinson

Saturday marks the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall that cut off West Berlin, which was governed by West Germany, from Soviet-backed East Berlin and East Germany. When the wall came down, it marked the beginning of the end of the Cold War, and the  eventual collapse of the Soviet Union.

During the depths of the Cold War, Kenneth Atkinson crossed through the heavily fortified Checkpoint Bravo from West Berlin into enemy territory – Soviet-controlled East Germany. He was serving as specialist fourth class as part of the Berlin Brigade. It was the last unit from World War II still stationed in the city.

Atkinson, now a professor of history at the University of Northern Iowa told IPR’s Pat Blank about the unique role he played as a secret messenger.

“It was a very unusual job,” he said. “Each week I would ride the train for several hours and deliver documents and packages in the dark.”

Atkinson believed in one instance that the oddly-shaped package  he carried was a rifle.  He was stationed in West Berlin from 1984 to 1987. Only a few years after he left, the wall came down.  Two years after that, the Soviet Union collapsed.

Atkinson returned to Germany last September. He was being honored by the German government through the Checkpoint Charlie Foundation for his service during the Cold War.

“It was a shock to see it,” he remembered. "There, among the buildings still showing the bullet holes from the war, are Starbucks, Burger King and McDonald's. Capitalism has won.”