Berlin ‘68


My third visit to Berlin was to attend a conference there at end of November and the beginning of December 1968.


When a suitable gap appeared in the programme, I felt the need to take time out to re-visit The Wall and cross over once again into East Berlin.


I walked along a substantial length of The Wall in the West, and was amazed at this latest generation of the construction - it looked almost civilised, except when I remembered once more what it was for.


In a number of areas the original crude breeze blocks and barbed wire had been replaced with concrete beams, making it look like a normal factory wall.


Of course I could not resist going back again to Bernauer Strasse, after all this had been where my very first experience of what was happening had taken place.  The two photographs here illustrates different scenes from my first visit.


These blocks of former apartment homes, which had housed two thousand people had been reduced to the outer wall of the ground floors, and a newer, albeit cruder wall erected behind.



It meant the East Germans no longer had to mount a guard within the empty houses as they did after they evacuated everyone in 1961.


When I went through the procedure in the East German hut at Checkpoint Charlie, I felt proceedings were taking too long.  Eventually I was called forward into the second room, finding myself standing before a desk which was almost chest high.  The officer behind the desk seemed to be handling a few papers, but he made no effort to prevent me seeing them.


I could clearly see turquoise ink on a form, confirming to me he had my visa form which I had completed in 1965!  My insides felt as if they were turning to water.  I admit I was frightened at this moment, and wondered if there was any way in which I could turn back!


He also had several photographs.  I presumed one of them was a photograph of my passport taken in the back room three years before, but what were the others?  Could he have a photograph of me laying that wreath in 1962?


Later that day I discussed this experience with a West German Foreign Office official when I got back to the conference centre, and he re-assured me it was indicative of the paranoia of the East Germans to check and re-check every detail.  He told me they were fanatical about paperwork, he said he was pretty certain the same would happen to him if he were able to make the crossing!


I have to say I did not feel very re-assured - they, the East German authorities had clearly opened a file on me, which just happened to be at Checkpoint Charlie on the very day I crossed over!


How creepy was that?


The picture above shows a return to the observation platform at Potsdammer Platz.  The first notable thing is the change in The Wall.  The crude breeze blocks and barbed wire have gone.  Even though it was a foggy day Hitler's bunker can still be seen on the right of the picture.  However, take a look back at the similar scene in my story about Berlin '65  -  the huge watchtower has gone  -  perhaps they thought these changes would alter the perceptions visitors might have about the purpose of The Wall.


Since this visit was close to Christmas, I paid particular attention to the festivities on each side of The Wall.


Whilst in the East I visited the departmental store, Centrum, located to one side of the Alexanderplatz.  It looked, from the outside, like any modern building of the 60s in East Berlin.


Except, there was very little on display in the windows, and even less in the store itself - here and there were mannequins displaying the odd coat or dress.  There were no Christmas decorations to be seen anywhere.


However, I did come across a long queue in the toy department.  Behind the counter were large boxes (marked made in China) containing just one toy, a mechanical wind-up display of a car racing track - I left feeling depressed with the thought that children of East Berlin might have only one toy available to them that Christmas!


Of course, once back in the West, I headed straight for the major store in West Berlin.  KaDeWe - Kaufhaus des Westerns - second only to Harrods as a leading departmental store in Europe.

It was brightly lit, fully decorated for Christmas and with several Santa figures ringing their bells on the pavements outside to tempt shoppers inside.  The store was bulging with everything you could possibly imagine of a leading departmental store, and it was full of happy shoppers.


I cannot imagine a more stark contrast between the two, and once more I felt an intense sadness when thinking of the cruelty of the Communist Regime of East Germany!



A look back at a Party Conference  click here