Sunday, November 9, 2014

Flashback to Before the Fall of the Berlin Wall

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.

Brandenburg Gate

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.

Brandenburg Gate, Google Street View photo by Carsten Hoppe, July 2014

Checkpoint Charlie

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.

West Berlin, Berlin Wall
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. 

Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie
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.

What big changes do you hope to see in the world by the time the next generation starts exploring it?


  1. So fascinating. I've gone to Berlin several times this year and the story of the wall is such a huge draw to me. I've done several walking tours, visited several memorials, and have read multiple books. But, nothing can compare to what it must've been like in Berlin before the wall came down. Thanks for sharing these pictures.

    The biggest thing that surprised me about Berlin is that it's really hard to tell what was once in some of the areas. I have no idea what changes will happen in the next 25 years, but I hope more invisible walls between cultures crumble.

  2. Amazing pictures. I remember watching the wall coming down on TV as a child, I am not sure there will be any sign of celebration here in Munich, but in Berlin I bet it's a brilliant atmosphere! :)

  3. Oh I sort of remember the wall coming down as well and this is such a good review of it and makes me again think we must get to this fascinating city one day soon and visit this historic spot! Great post - as always :-)

  4. Wow, those pictures fascinated me. I sincerely hope that we can see major changes between North and South Korea, but unfortunately it would take radical change in NK for that to happen.

  5. Hi Michelle, this such a great post. I love those old photographs. I like to contrast of the Brandenburg Gate then and now photo. The old one look so bleak, sad and stoic compared to the easy going atmosphere of the Google Street. I can't believe it has been 25 years. It's nice reliving that amazing day in history,
    My hope for the next generation is to see the world where all religions get along and all countries would be safe to visit by all.

  6. When I went to Berlin last year I could only imagine what it was like before the wall came down, and every time the anniversary comes, I only think of everyone's happiness, at the moment.

    btw, I've nominated your blog for the liebster award, check it out here:

  7. This is incredible! I loved seeing the Berlin Wall just a few weeks ago. I love the contrast of the old and new.

  8. What a milestone! I have no idea what the future holds, but I sure hope our kids can write about something amazing like this one day.

  9. This was an absolutely AWESOME post and right in my wheelhouse, Michele! I've studied WWII all of my adult life as my dad was a history teacher amongst a few subjects and I took off from there with it. I just got done watching a documentary on the Berlin Wall for the umpteenth time and it only gets better every time. I also did a marathon WWII in color Blu-ray this last weekend so perfect timing. I've been contemplating my first trip to Germany...IF I make it...and that being my first ever trip overseas - and that would be the Stephen Ambrose Band of Brothers tour. It's super expensive though. My hope today is first, of course, that we can somehow lessen the threat of the extremist groups around the world. They will always be there. And I hope that we can evolve back soon to Russia having better relations with the world than is currently the status. Loved this post and thank you :)

  10. What a great rundown on the Berlin Wall. I had no idea it was put up in four days. Absolutely incredible! I have yet to travel to Berlin but as someone who grew up during the Cold War it will have real meaning to touch it. Wonderful post.

  11. Whoa awesome shots. So much amazing history in such a compact area.


  12. Oh, these photos are so cool. How great to have this piece of history. My husband works closely with a German company here in the US and I was thrilled to be able to see a few pieces of the wall they have on display at their factory.

  13. What a fantastic post!!! These photos are amazing! Thanks for sharing. I remember so vividly when the wall came down. It was such a big deal. Even for high schoolers in the US.

  14. I almost got arrested at the Wall back in 1973. I was traveling with 2 friends on EurRail Passes. I can't remember where we were coming from, but we had to pass through East Berlin to get to West Berlin. Of course, our passes were no valid, but didn't realize until it was too late. We were taken off the train, and locked in a room. One of us had to go and buy the tickets (me), and come back. Getting out of that locked room was such a relief! Now, the wall and my escapade are history:)

  15. This is fascinating- to see the older pictures as well!! Awesome post. I am fascinated by the Berlin wall. I wish that things would end peacefully for everyone, like this ended without violence in the end. Maybe one day in Northern Ireland the wall will come down, and not need to be looked for curfew each night. Maybe one day Israel and Palestine will sort themselves out. Maybe we can all hope for these things.

  16. Very fascinating photos. I love seeing the older pics of it and seeing how far we have come. I'd like to see similar violent situations come to an end in the future. I can hold out hope. Obviously I would also love to see our planet being taken better care of generally speaking, in terms of preserving our environment, our oceans, our forests, and our animals. And I'd love to see discrimination come to an end. I hope that we move forward as a society and can attain these goals!

  17. Wow, what a great post. I especially enjoyed all the images that took a look back into 1976 Berlin. It seems like such a foreign concept when you look at Berlin today. I was in Berlin around the 22nd anniversary of the fall and while celebrations were not as grand, there was definitely a presence in the air.


I read each and every comment. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. Comment moderation is on, so your comment may not appear immediately.

Web Analytics