Alnwick Probus Club

When the Berlin Wall came down in the late 1980s, the difference in the economies of East and West Germany was starkly illustrated by the cars they produced.

The East German Trabant was regarded as one of the worst cars ever made while the West German BMW range was one of the most sought-after cars in the world.

Thus, Air Vice Marshall Sandy Hunter compared his life in the West to that he experienced in the USSR as a military attache to Moscow during the 1970s.

His talk to Alnwick Probus Club, entitled A Bowl of Solyanka, described his experiences behind the Iron Curtain, which only came after he had undergone 12 months of intense tutorial in the Russian language, not the easiest subject to learn.

The life of a British military officer in Russia during the Cold War was not far removed from the cloak and dagger spy novels of the period.

Movements were shadowed, cars followed, rooms bugged and travel was controlled by permits which were only issued begrudgingly, if at all.

The conditions suffered by the local population were very harsh by comparison. Long queues formed for what the West would consider basic commodities, the quality of goods was appalling and the staff serving were generally surly.

In addition, the man in the street was afraid to talk to westerners, although this did ease as the distance from Moscow increased.

The talk was given on a sunny September morning in the cricket club pavilion at Weavers Way and the contrast of that lovely situation alongside the cold, grey USSR described could not have been greater.

Incidentally, solyanka is a meat and vegetable stew which was almost inedible at the time of Sandy’s residence in the East.

It was served throughout the Soviet Union during the Cold War with not much else to choose from.

Sandy was pleased to say that the quality is much better since the Iron Curtain came down, as much else has improved in that region.