Dave and Iola Brubeck on touring Poland in 1958
KH: When it was clear you had this opportunity to go into these territories where very few Americans had ever performed before, how did you feel about that? Did you think it was a great opportunity, or did you have concerns?
DB: Well, I thought it was great. And, it was great. When we first arrived in -- well, getting to Poland was a trip that you can't believe because our government didn't seem to realize that there was East Germany between where we were and Poland.
And, so we were told to fly to Berlin. And then, we would go into East Germany and get our papers to go to Poland. And, when we got to Berlin, it seemed so ridiculous. We could have flown right to Warsaw. But here, they're making us go to Berlin and we have no way of going to East Berlin, which was communist at that time.
IB: At that time, our government did not recognize East Germany as a government. So, it was a very spooky place to be, because if anything happened --
KH: There was no super --
IB: -- who would know? And, there was no kind of international agreement of any kind.
KH: Well, I want you, if you would Dave, to tell the story about the car ride into East Berlin.
DB: Oh, yeah.
KH: I don't know that we have that on video. So...
DB: No one could figure out how we were going to get into East Berlin to get their permission. And, the American -- do you think was the Cultural Exchange --
IB: Probably the cultural attache.
DB: -- said, "Well, we've arranged for you to go in Madame [Gunderlock's?] car in the trunk, and go through Brandenburg Gate." And I said, "No way will I get in the trunk of a car and go through Brandenburg Gate." And they said, "Well, will you get in the back seat?" I said, "Yeah, but what will I do when I'm questioned?"
And they said, "Well, just hope that you're not questioned, because Madame [Gunderlock?] is one German that seems to be able to go through Brandenburg Gate back and forth. And, don't question why. Just go with her, and she will take you to a place that's like a police station."
"And, she will drop you off. And then, after you go in and get your papers, she will pick you up again." So, when she got ready to drop me off, she said, "Whatever you do, keep walking because everybody will know you're an American just from your clothes the minute you get out of this car. And, we can't stop. We've got to keep going, or they'll question me too much. And, we'll keep circling this area until we see you again."
IB: And you weren't to speak to anyone.
DB: "No, don't say anything." (laughter) And, so I went into this police-like looking station, and I was in a room that was all cement walls and floors, and only wooden benches for chairs. And, I was told to wait there. So, I waited a long time. It seemed to me like hours.
Pretty quick, a man came in and sat down next to me and said, "Are you Mr. Coolu?" And I said, "No, Mr. Brubeck." He said, "No, you're Mr. Coolu." I said, "Brubeck." He got out a newspaper, and there's a picture of me. And under the picture it said, "Mr. Coolu." So, he points at this and he points at me, and we can't speak -- I cannot communicate with him.
But, I get the picture (laughter) so to speak. And he said, "Mr. Coolu. OK, I give you these papers." So, he gave me the papers to go to Poland. I went back out and found Madame [Gunderlock?] coming around the corner in her car. (laughter)
I got in, went back through the gate, which was, again, very unlawful, but managed to go, as Madame [Gunderlock?] could go through that gate. And, now I had to pick up my wife and two of our children at the hotel, and go back into East Berlin with my band, and now we've got to wonder, "How are we going to get through that gate with a band, and instruments, and children?" And, we did manage -- on a streetcar was it -- and then got to the railway station. And, I said, "We want to go to Frankfurt." And the woman said, "Frankfurt on Main or Frankfurt on --"
DB: I didn't know. And so I said, "We want to go to Poland." She said, "Schnell, schnell!" That means, "Hurry, hurry!" The train's leaving. And so, here we're all running with instruments and everything, no baggage man to help you, not sure where we're going, which train. We get on by passing the instruments through the windows.
And, we're finally on the train, and it was a very -- it was a spooky night because all you saw were little lights reflecting on the caps of the soldiers. That's about the only thing you could see. I guess it was moonlight because there were no lights in the stations. And, then they would inspect us. And, I had the papers to go on through. And, we were going to Szczecin in Poland.
IB: We also had a problem because the tickets were made out wrong so that the children were headed for some place else besides where we were going. Remember that part of it? (laughter)
DB: Terrible. (laughter)
KH: It's a miracle you made it.
DB: Yeah, a ten year old and an eight year old would be on their own. So, there was finally a conductor that we could communicate a little to, say we were family, and they were to go. So, we finally arrived in Szczecin, and that was the coldest, darkest arrival you could imagine. No lights...
You just get off the train. There's boardwalks through the mud to a kind of an underground passageway with once in a while a light. And, we're on our own.
IB: And, I think a very funny story is when they were trying to ask you, "What were in those cases?"
DB: Oh yeah. I couldn't explain what was in the cases -- what is in the cases. And, they were drums, and they didn't understand that. So, I went, "Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom." And they went, "Boom, boom, boom? Open!" (laughter)
IB: They tore into them to see what was there (laughter).
DB: They thought it was bombs I think (laughter).
IB: TNT or something. (laughter)
DB: And, finally we heard a voice in the dark saying, "Are you Brubeck? I am Adam Zung to escort you, and I have come in a bus to take you to Szczecin," because we weren't in Szczecin. We were just let off the train some place.
IB: Yeah, I don't know where that was.
DB: We don't ever know where we were. But, he knew we'd get off there. So, we got into this bus, and it was freezing cold. It was winter. And, when we started up, we could see through the holes in the floor, the road. And, it just shouldn't have been allowed to be running. And, we had to sit there in the cold. And, did he explain to us where we were going?
IB: Well, I guess we were headed for Szczecin, and this was in the middle of the night now. And, as morning dawned, we came into Szczecin. So, it was quite a night. (laughter)
KH: It was a border crossing in the middle of the night with no information, and the language barrier to boot, and two small children inside.
DB: And a hotel when we arrived -- it took some convincing to get a room. And, we had a room for the boys, and a room for us. But, there was a round, iron stove in the middle of each room. And, periodically through the night would be girls come in and put wood in the stove.
IB: Or coal. It was coal, I think.
DB: Coal... And you were trying to sleep, and the sound of the coal going into the stove, that was a night to remember. And, then things started improving somewhat when we got into Szczecin proper. And, we played our first concert in Szczecin.
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