It was about 0715 or seven fifteen in the morning for those that need additional help. It was some time in 1989. I was in the galley of a 727 Pan Am Clipper at Berlin Tegel Airport. Of course, our staff of German flight attendants (both beautiful and efficient) had the coffee ready. We shared our guten tags (good mornings) and, with my coffee, I marched forward to the cockpit to peruse my company-supplied box breakfast.
As always, you never knew what was there in addition to the baby wurst and roll. Aha! There was yogurt with a banana to slice into it and a candy bar, some Knakebrot (dry, but good cracker) and, of course, butter to spread on it. Definitely a low carb, low fat diet. A hard boiled egg, condiments and a couple of other assorted goodies. The flight engineer stopped to say hi and wandered out into the cool morning air to do his preflight. Another wonderful day in the IGS (Internal German Service).
The Berlin base was different, quite different, compared to the rest of the airline. To digress, I was an air carrier inspector for the FAA for about seven years and was recalled to Pan Am after a short 16 year, 7 month, 10 day furlough.
During that time, I had the opportunity to evaluate pilots from numerous airlines. I soon learned that although each pilot had a personality, each airline gave their crew members the airline’s individual personality. Years later, when I flew at a carrier that had acquired numerous other carriers, most of the time you could tell which airline the other crew member originally came from, but that’s another story.
It seems like the folks that ended up in Berlin were really different. They were like a family and a really close family at that. More importantly, they wanted everyone to know they were the best. They flew fast and when a fellow pilot got stuck somewhere in the maze of traffic schedules, they quickly changed and, even though they might be absent, another body took their place and everything seemed to work—the flight left on time. It wasn’t unusual for a flight engineer to pre-flight his neighbor’s plane or for a pilot to leave on an earlier trip for lack of a crew member. I guess you could say that we were known to be a little different throughout the system.
For those of you who don’t know the history of the walled city of Berlin, I will share a few pointers. The city was divided into four sectors: one on the other side of the wall which was the DDR (Deutsche Democratic Republic) and the other three sectors which were the US, French, and British. The latter three were the only ones that had carriers that were permitted to fly into West Berlin. So now you have a pretty good idea of the landscape.
Back to my story. In those days, Berlin was an island surrounded by the communist East Germany. To fly out of there, you had to fly the Berlin Corridor. There were three corridors that left the city and they went to either Hamburg, Frankfurt, or Munich, and then points beyond. So here we were waiting to depart with our clearance when I heard this friendly voice with a west Texas drawl.
“Tegel Ground, Clipper 702 with Bravo, IFR to Hamburg.” Realize that there were only parallel runways at Tegel. You know from the ATIS the runway you’re going to use and, after flying hundreds of times to these destinations, you probably know the clearance by heart.
Tower rapidly responds, “Clipper 702, cleared Hamburg Brekendorf two climb and maintain 6000.”
Silence for a short time and then a Texas drawl responds, “Tegel Ground, 702, say again.”
Ground control in his clipped, German, business-like accent responded once again with the clearance that you have heard over and over again.
The frequency once again went silent until Clipper 702 responded in that slow Texas drawl, “Tegel Ground, do you hear how fast I talk? Well, that’s how fast I listen, too, so say again.”
When the laughter subsided, I called for push back and for some reason I knew I would remember that conversation forever.