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New Europe

Day One Hundred and Twenty-two: Berlin

At tank school 
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Panzer Palin with long-suffering instructor, Mischa.
Michael Palin - New EuropeWe drive east towards the Polish border to investigate another example of post-socialist enterprise. Like Herr Marx's Spreewald boat trips, Jörg and Axel Heyse's tank-driving school, or, as they call it, 'Panzer "Fun" Fahrschule', is a small triumph of local initiative in a world where all the best jobs have gone west.

Axel Heyse, a short, compact, middle-aged man with thick, swept-back dark hair and Latin film-star looks, was, like his brother, a tank commander in the GDR. At the height of the Cold War his was one of 7,000 Warsaw Pact tanks facing 1,500 NATO tanks with only flat, sandy heathland between them. Axel said that their T-55s could have reached Marseille in five days.

Though he left the army in 1988 and became a police officer, tank-driving was in his blood and after the collapse of the GDR he saved pieces of old tanks from scrap and reassembled them. Their appearances were so successful that three years ago they opened the school and now employ fifteen people.

I'm given the chance to drive a T-55, an opportunity that probably won't come my way again, and about which I have extreme misgivings. I sign a form absolving the 'Fun' Fahrschule from all responsibility if I turn one over or inadvertently crush the reception area and am given a balaclava to wear with a tight cap over it with a headset inside. Axel, muttering encouraging words like 'This is Russian technology, it's indestructible, do what you like with it', directs me towards the dusty olive beast about 30 feet long and 10 feet high that I'm to take control of.
Tank country 
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The flat fields of Brandenburg-Prussia have always been 'good tank country'. T-55s, like the one I'm sitting on, were programmed to get to the French Riviera in five days.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day One Hundred and Twenty-two: Berlin
  • Country/sea: Germany
  • Place: Berlin
  • Book page no: 282

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