East and West Berlin
Sometimes it seems like yesterday that I was this age - but then there are things that remind it was actually a long time ago!! ;-)
Still can't quite believe I got to do this. Didn't make as much of it (photo or exploring-wise) as I would now.
"Fade Out No.02" template album
Even though it was over 40 years since the end of World War Two, Germany was still divided into the West (allied with Britain and the US) and the communist East (part of the Soviet bloc). And Berlin, although stuck in the middle of East Germany, was a divided city as the West had retained control of half of it. It was literally divided by the Berlin wall, put up in 1961 to stop people defecting to the Western side of the city. To get to Berlin you had to drive along the transit motorway which was effectively a “corridor” from West Germany to the city. You could not stop at any time, and helicopters constantly circled overhead to make sure you didn’t. Even getting onto the motorway to start the drive was an unforgettable experience. Once through the western border and a large area of no-mans land, you drove through the first set of gates and guard towers one car at a time, then had to slowly negotiate a winding route marked out with cones across a large space surrounded by gun towers with machine guns trained on the car. In the middle you had to stop and get out while guards searched the car and questioned you. They particularly wanted to know about any “kinder” (children) so you couldn’t later bring out children from the East claiming they were yours
It was a relief to get through the border at the other end of the motorway into West Berlin, where we camped by one of the many lakes dotted around the city. We caught the U-Bahn into the centre, and walked along the wall, marvelling at the old roads and tram lines it bisected. From platforms we could see across into no-mans land - empty boarded up buildings, the remains of roads and quite a few rabbits. Crossing to East Berlin through Checkpoint Charlie took an age - and the compulsory exchange of more money than you could spend in a day in the few shops across there. It was bleak and depressing. We sat on a bench arguing and a man came up and tried to interest us in a black market money exchange. We refused and spent it instead on a dreadful meal at a cafeteria and in the huge bookshop of English language propaganda and dry socialist tracts. We didn’t wander far from the border. Given my time again I would have explored all day but it was overwhelming. Although some repairs had been done, a lot of the buildings still showed bomb damage and were riddled with bullet holes. Most were blackened by smoke. At the Monument to the Victims of Fascism we watched the goose-stepping guards, then we visited the Bebelplatz which was notorious as the site of Nazi book burnings but was now a carpark full of the ubiquitous East German Trabants. Going back through into West Berlin at the end of the day was a much quicker procedure, and the Western side had a fascinating museum about escape attempts across the wall since the 1960s.