Hubby has been traveling internationally since he was a youngster. In the summer of 1976, his family took a trip to Berlin, both East and West sides. The city was still more than a decade away from being reunified. Today Google Doodle marking the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall reminded me of those old family photos.
|East Berlin side of Brandenburg Gate, 1976|
This photo was taken from the East Berlin side of the Brandenburg Gate. I assume that the low, gray object on the other side of the gate is the Berlin Wall. The sign reads "Frontier Area. Passage allowed only by special permission." For East Berliners, that special permission was very difficult to obtain. Compare it to what appears in Google Street View today. Food carts, selfies, and tons of tourists. Thirty-eight years makes a lot of difference.
|Checkpoint Charlie, 1976|
The best known crossing between East and West Berlin was called Checkpoint Charlie by the Western Allies. It was in operation for 28 years. A sign by it indicates "Achtung. Sektorengrenze. (Warning. Sector Boundary.)" Today, the shed that sits on the street is a replica of the first guardhouse and is a popular tourist attraction. An authentic shed is currently located at the Allied Museum in Berlin, but that one is larger and newer than the one in this photo from 1976.
|View from the tour bus: "You are leaving the American Sector"|
The wall is so tall and imposing. Road blockades, a fence topped with barbed wire, and then there it is... the Berlin Wall. It's somber and serious with none of the graffiti that festoons segments today.
|Russian zone across the Berlin Wall from Checkpoint Charlie observation post|
There was an elevated observation post next to Checkpoint Charlie where people could look across the wall at the Soviet controlled section of East Berlin. Soviet guards kept watch in the tower above, just one of the 302 located around the wall, and had permission to shoot if people tried to escape East Berlin illegally. 239 escapees were killed, but 5,043 were successful.
Two months after the wall was erected in 1961, American and Soviet tanks faced off for six days across Checkpoint Charlie with engines running and live munitions loaded. Both sides had permission to fire if fired upon. US General Lucius Clay was convinced that the US could put bulldozer mounts on their tanks and knock down the wall without provoking a military response from the Soviets. However, John F. Kennedy and Nikita Kruschev agreed to both withdraw their tanks. According to Kennedy, "It's not a very nice solution, but a wall is a hell of a lot better than a war."
Looking across the wall
That 14-foot-tall wall ran 155 kilometers (96 miles) around West Berlin. The East Germans promoted it as a victory and as an "Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart." The wall went up over the course of four nights through busy roads and parks, between buildings and across rivers.
|East Berlin on the left and West Berlin on the right.|
Axel Springer Verlag is currently one of the largest digital publishing houses in Europe. In 1959-1960, Springer moved its headquarters from Hamburg to West Berlin as a symbolic protest over the division of Germany. The office building is on the right side of the above photo abutting the Berlin Wall separating it from East Berlin on the left side of the photo. Note that there's another Soviet watch tower. No one is allowed to escape, and if they try, there's a wide no-man's-land where the guards have a clear shot.
|Neue Zeit newspaper published in East Berlin|
Another publishing house sits on the East Berlin side of the wall. Neue Zeit was the daily newspaper of the Christian Democratic Union, one of the puppet parties created to give the pretense of a multi-party system. East Berliners were said to have jumped from the Neue Zeit building over the wall to escape.
Celebrating the Fall
On this date in 1989, the leader of East Germany, Egon Krenz, opened the borders between East and West Berlin, allowing people to leave East Berlin at will and without special permission. At 10:45 P.M., the gates were no longer locked tight, and people weren't shot if they tried to leave. It didn't matter if they were from East or West. Both sides jumped on the wall and danced in celebration.
I remember November 9, 1989, quite well. My good friend's father lived in Berlin when the wall went up. He was able to visit either side until, one day, a barrier was erected, and he could no longer see his friends in East Berlin. She was saying that day how elated he was.
The wall didn't come down immediately. It was still guarded by the East German military for a few more months, but it was nothing like it had been in the preceding years. The official dismantling of the physical wall began on June 13, 1990 and was effectively gone a few months later.
Today, Germany celebrates the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. White balloons line part of the former boundary and will be released to float away. If only it had actually been that easy. There's concerts and exhibitions, and a big party at the Brandenburg Gate. In other words, it's nothing like what hubby saw when he was a young Texas boy visiting East Berlin in 1976.