Berlin ‘65

 

The Junge Union Rheingau continued with their exchanges with London Young Conservatives, and in 1965 we were invited to return, and once again we were taken to Berlin to see the condition of The Wall.

 

I welcomed the opportunity to get an update first hand.  I realised I had developed a fascination to know what was still happening three years on in the divided city of Berlin.

 

We re-visited some of the parts we had seen in 1962.  Bernauer Strasse in particular was becoming unrecognisable.  The terrace of buildings, of which No.44 had formed a part, was slowly being demolished.  We looked for Bernd Lünser’s memorial cross, but it had gone - we were told damaged by falling masonry as the demolition started.

 

We did however find a cross which had survived, just a few houses along, in memory of a woman called Olga Segler.  Olga had been 80 years of age when she jumped from her second floor apartment on 25 September 1961, but she died the following day.  She severely injured her back in jumping and her heart gave out due to the stress.

 

Here was another sad story - it seemed Olga, tired of the increasingly ruthless treatment of Bernauer Strasse residents, just wanted to be with her daughter in the West - she didn’t jump as a political gesture, but out of desperation, as she was about to be forcibly removed from her apartment by the East German authorities.

 

This time, I felt I had to make the journey into the East, which was now allowed for foreign passport holders.  With others from our group I passed through Checkpoint Charlie, to see for myself what life was like in the East.  It was a whole new experience from before, when we could only look over The Wall from observation platforms.

 

At first we were checked by American soldiers who were around the small white hut on the Western side which had been installed since I was last there.  They told us to be sure to return in time for the curfew in the East.  Their whole manner was one of laughter and joking and they were happy to pose for photographs.  For example the picture here shows part of our group with the US soldiers, with two of them, rather irreverently making a Nazi salute, causing the soldiers to laugh.

 

Then we passed through the entrance gate on the Western side and crossed the gap - a no mans’ land with soldiers to be seen every few metres - before reaching the much more substantial structure which was the East German hut.  You had to climb a kind of step ladder to gain access.  In the first section a green uniformed soldier took my passport and gave me what the signs on the wall of the hut described as a visa form.  He told me to complete it, and he pushed my passport through a slot behind him.

 

So I filled out the form - in those days I happened to use a fountain pen, which was filled with turquoise ink - I felt it made me different, at least in what I wrote!  I handed the form to the soldier and he motioned me to pass through to the next section.  After a few moments another soldier appeared from a back room with the form and my passport, and over the desk asked questions about the details in front of him.  Once he was satisfied with my details he handed me back my passport, and pointed to the exit.

 

Slowly we walked along the Friedrichstrasse from the crossing point.  At every junction we could see a number of armed soldiers and everywhere there were banners proclaiming the virtues of the DDR.  Everywhere we went we saw signs which can only be described as propaganda.  The picture here is an example of a display in the Unter den Linden.

 

In some places these had been erected to hide what remained of buildings still left from the bomb damages of the War.  All the time we felt as if we were being watched as we walked along.  I’m sure that wasn’t the case, but I know I felt it!

 

Once we reached the Unter den Linden, we turned right and headed towards the Brandenburg Gate - I had seen the view from the West in ‘62 - now I had to see it from the Eastern side.

 

The crude breeze blocks had by now been replaced with concrete blocks which had been painted white, and which were decorated with flower boxes placed at intervals.  I found that to be very sick, again when you thought of the purpose of The Wall.

 

We retraced our steps along the Unter den Linden and headed towards the Alexanderplatz.  The only vehicles we saw during this long walk were ones carrying armed soldiers, and most of them were moving slowly.  Surprisingly there were quite a few people to be seen.  We went for a cup of coffee in a small bar down one side of the Alexanderplatz.  The only choice was black or white.  I suspect it wasn’t even coffee as the taste was unpleasant!

 

There were a lot of modern buildings, which created an impression that all was well, but unlike West Berlin everything seemed dead!  West Berlin was buzzing with traffic; East Berlin was devoid of the kind of traffic you expect in a major city.

We were all very glad to return to West Berlin.

 

My final picture in this story was taken from the observation platform looking out over The Wall onto Potsdamer Platz.  It was rather hazy that day, but if you look closely you will see the large watchtower in the centre of the picture, and, over to the right the mound which marks the site of Hitler’s Bunker.

 

I think this picture tells its own vivid story  -  the crude wall, topped with so much barbed wire, the enormous watchtower, the tank traps, the secondary wire fence, and the floodlights  -  what were they all for  -  what conclusion can one reach  -  in my view it was about imprisoning the population of East Berlin, nothing more, nothing less.

(  all of the photographs in this section were taken from a set of slides, part of my own collection on Berlin  )

Now for another visit to Berlin three years later  click here