On the eastern side of the rift, the scenery is still dominated by untouched nature, endless oak and birch alleys, and CinemaScope landscapes embroidered with quaint, lookalike villages. It’s nothing like western Germany, where everything is more frenzied and much more expensive.
“Marienborn was a feared checkpoint where travelers spent hours waiting in line to obtain permission to enter the forbidden part of their own country.”
No matter which side of the former demarcation zone you are on, the Mustang is an alien. In a land that lusts after efficient turbodiesels, the Ford, with its naturally aspirated, 435-hp 5.0-liter V-8, is a decadent anachronism that’s as folksy as a copy of Playboy from the mid-’60s.
The list of border protections the former German Democratic Republic set up reads like a compendium of the Greatest Horrors of All Time: 900 underground bunkers, 665 observation towers, 500 miles of trenches, and 996 high-security zones complete with guard dogs. Not to mention minefields, touch-sensitive signal fences, fortification walls, automatic shooting mechanisms loaded with expanding bullets, barbed-wire fences, and concrete obstacles of all shapes and sizes. Along the ragged and seemingly random former frontier, many memorials and museums stand as reminders of a dark epoch. Even a quarter century after East and West reunited, a wide, treeless green ribbon still bears witness to the drama that ended more than 600 lives. True, this part of the world might not be the happiest holiday destination, but our Mustang supplies the cheer. During our (frequent) stops at gas stations, rubber-necked admirers surround our Mustang. Burnouts and loud V-8 revs please the crowds here just as they would in faraway Texas.
At last we reach the former Marien-born border-crossing point, through which Westerners accessed West Berlin. It still evokes the same creepy, Big Brother feeling it had when I passed the eerie fortress as a young boy. Now part of a vast museum site, the imposing steel structure, covered with rattling plexiglass roof panels, triggers flashbacks to the Cold War days—the elevated passport control booths, narrow pits flanked by huge adjustable mirrors, row after row of bright yellow overhead lights, and barracks stuffed with tiny prison cells and interrogation rooms. In its heyday, Marienborn was a feared checkpoint where travelers spent hours waiting in line to obtain permission to enter the forbidden part of their own country. The two-lane highway to the capital was a notoriously neglected centipede of prefab concrete slabs. Westerners were strictly prohibited from deviating from the highway; Easterners in their wobbly two-stroke stinkmobiles struggled to hit the speed limit.
The third day of our drive is devoted entirely to Berlin, which has over time sloughed several skins without managing to evolve into a truly homogenous metropolis. We tick the significant boxes: Brandenburg Gate, which had been boxed in by the Berlin Wall; Checkpoint Charlie, the best-known crossing point between East and West Berlin; Unter den Linden, an elegant boulevard, and Karl-Marx-Allee, a street lined in socialist-style residential blocks; Charlottenburg Wilmersdorf, a western town with a palace and an Olympic stadium, and Prenzlau, an eastern town with one of the highest jobless rates in the country; and Glienicker Bridge in Potsdam, where commies and capitalists used to swap spies.
The big cities have delicious bratwursts and colorful cocktails but nowhere to play with the Mustang. There’s no room to move, no parking spaces, no open boulevards for second-gear pulls. Badly hungover, we start our final day by filling up the thirsty horse, plugging our desti-nation into the navigation system—Ford’s best yet—and pointing the Mustang’s chrome nostrils toward Priwall, the once famous harbor town where the curtain of injustice petered out into the sea. It’s a long way from Mödlareuth, a reminder that the Iron Curtain ran too far for too long. The path we followed is littered with shards of history and forget-me-nots we’d rather forget. The Mustang GT, however, does a fine job of marching into the future. It still has hints of some old muscle-car habits, like lazy gearing and somewhat vague steering at high speeds. But with a balanced chassis and a nicely finished interior, it finally has the poise to go with its power.