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BEHIND THE CURTAIN: UNI professor remembers top secret duty before the fall of the Berlin Wall

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa (KWWL) – Nov. 11, 2019 marks the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. A University of Northern Iowa professor lived and served during this time behind the iron curtain.

Dr. Ken Atkinson was a document courier for the U.S. Army Berlin Brigade. The occupational force was part of the allied forces that occupied West Berlin after World War II. Atkinson delivered and received papers from spies behind the iron curtain to take back to West Germany headquarters. Atkinson says it is unknown what information he carried while on these top secret deliveries.

“Many of them were classified units, I know who was bringing it to me, I’d see them, and some of it was intelligence from East Germany likely spy material,” says Atkinson.

Atkinson’s work consisted of daily trips to East Berlin through Checkpoint Charlie, the main checkpoint between East and West Berlin.

“Surreal experience walking through this death strip, you’re kind of in no-mans-land between the two countries, going through the checkpoints in uniform, they’d just wave me through,” says Atkinson.

Atkinson says his work commonly painted a target on his back.

“Really a strange experience. I was just followed everywhere. You were told anyone who approaches you and speaks to you is a spy,” says Atkinson.

Atkinson’s courier route meant taking a nightly train deep into the Soviet Union. Soviet troops would often come aboard so they could examine the information Atkinson carried.

“Russians would swarm around the train with attack dogs, machine guns and guard it,” says Atkinson. “We’d be there quite a while when the Russians checked the documents.”

Years after his tour of duty, Atkinson was recognized for his bravery by the Checkpoint Charlie Foundation.

“It was very important that it symbolized an end of a period of history, and a period of tensions between both countries,” says Atkinson. “I think we were successful during our mission in the cold war, eventually this would end.”

Dr. Atkinson was selected for the courier position for his degree in Human Resource Development from Oakley University. He had a choice of being assigned to Frankfurt, Germany or West Berlin.

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Vinny Lowerre

Producer & Multimedia Journalist

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