By Michelle Martin
BERLIN (Reuters) – When Mike Pompeo was posted to Europe as a U.S. soldier in the late 1980s, he patrolled the border that marked the “Iron Curtain” dividing East and West.
As he gazed on the militarised frontier back then, he had no idea that the Berlin Wall was about to fall and East and West Germany would be reunited less than a year after its fall.
Back in Berlin on Friday as U.S. secretary of state, the day before the 30th anniversary of the Wall coming down, Pompeo had no regrets about the demise of Communist East Germany but warned that there was still authoritarianism in the world.
“My tour, my time on station here, happened towards the end of the Cold War but my fellow soldiers and I know that we had no idea that it was in fact close to the end,” he said in a speech a few metres from where the Berlin Wall once stood.
“We did midnight emergency drills and exercises within sight of a militarised border.”
On Thursday he visited the farming village of Moedlareuth in an area of Bavaria where he patrolled.
Three decades ago, Moedlareuth was divided in two, with one part in the Capitalist West and the other in the Soviet-led Communist East.
“Would the next patrol be our last?” he said. “This was very real and this is hard to imagine for many of the young people in our two countries.”
The Berlin Wall, built in 1961 to stop East Germans fleeing to the West, was a heavily guarded concrete barrier that encircled West Berlin.
The Wall fell on Nov. 9, 1989, when euphoric East Germans, encouraged by reforms in the Communist world, poured into the West.
In the former East, known as the German Democratic Republic, the repressive Ministry of State Security, or Stasi, used torture, intimidation and informants to crush dissent.
“Now I know too that many of you in the audience today, no matter on what side of the Wall you grew up on, won’t forget the horrors of the German Democratic Republic,” Pompeo said.
“In 1961 the Volkspolizei (East German police) first jackhammered the city’s pavement and laid the cornerstones of cruelty. Those stones became 27 miles of Wall snaking through the German capital dividing a people.”
In a speech in which he criticised Russia and China, he cautioned that freedom was never guaranteed in the world.
“Today authoritarianism is just a stone’s throw away, it’s rising and if we’re honest, it never really went away completely,” he said.
(Editing by Timothy Heritage)