< Sally walked the Berlin Wall as part of Borders22 – Mamie Martin Fund

Sally walked the Berlin Wall as part of Borders22

In this blog, Sally Macpherson shared her virtual walk along the route of the Berlin Wall, remembering what happened at various points and paying homage to those who suffered there.

Sally’s walking took her In and around Edinburgh, to Cammo and Lauriston Farm. She walked 150 miles.

“My walks added up to the distance of my virtual trip along the Berlin Wall Trail with extra to allow for some diversions along the route, to take in some interesting places nearby.”

Before we begin

Germany became a unified country for the first time in 1871. The largest state was Prussia and its capital, Berlin, became the capital of the new country. Berlin is close to the border with Poland.

A mere seventy-five years later the country was once again divided. In 1945 the three WWII allies, Britain, America and Russia, later joined by France, decided to divide both the country and its capital into administrative zones. A protected transit route linked West Berlin to West Germany.

In 1949 the German Democratic Republic (GDR) was set up on the area of the country administered by Russia. By 1961 20% of its population had abandoned the socialist experiment and fled to the West. The easiest route was to go to Berlin, cross to a Western sector and fly out to West Germany.

To prevent collapse of the GDR checkpoints were set up and then the Wall was built, separating the city and its suburbs from the State of Brandenburg. For twenty eight years people were separated from family, friends and colleagues but never from their desire for freedom.

Sally tells us about her plans in this video and the walk itself is chronicled in the posts below.

The information I have used in this blog came from a guidebook and the internet.  This last episode is truly unique. From 1970 until mid 1976 my sister Bridget Smeall and her husband Giuliano Magi lived in Germany and knew many people from the East.  Here are my sister’s memories of that time.

Germany in the ‘70s by Bridget Smeall

When in 1970 we moved to Germany as “Gastarbeiter” things weren’t easy. We were helped by a young Italian who worked in the restaurant cum dance hall where my then fiance Giuliano was to work. Athough I had been told I could work, it didn’t transpire because the UK wasn’t in the ECC at the time. I had to stay in the very cold bedroom without heating. The young italian was married to a German girl from the East called Marianna. She told us that at the age of 15 at school they had a debate about rights and wrongs and freedom. That very evening their teacher came to each of his pupils’ houses and told them to get a toothbrush and go with him. Their discussion in class had been reported and the authorities were coming to take every child and send them to “re-educational farms”. They would never be allowed to finish their education. Read more >>>>>

And that really is the end of the road.  I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.  

So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye

Thanks for your company and support.

Stage 14 (Final) – Nordbahnhof to Potsdamer Platz

So here we are on the last stage, approaching the spectacular end of the trail. We are in the busy heart of the city surrounded by history, countless memorials, and many creative responses such as the hundred bronze silhouettes of rabbits set in the border zone. They remind us that these were the only creatures that could roam freely in that area.

Indulging my passion for architecture, I am making a detour, first to the Reichstag building, once famously wrapped in cloth as an art installation and now restored by Norman Foster. I wonder how I will rate it against the Scottish Parliament? Then I must see the “New” Gallery of 1968, the only museum ever built by Mies van der Rohe. It is a pavilion-like building with all the exhibition space below ground. The Picture Gallery, State Library and Sony Centre are all in this area.

If you see nothing else you must visit the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. It is a massive area of great stone slabs, all similar but varying slightly, just like us. There are no names or inscriptions. You walk through the labyrinth experiencing disorientation and loss. A museum beneath the Memorial displays detail of Nazi war crimes.

And finally, the iconic end of the journey on the border itself, the world famous Brandenburg Gate. A symbol of division when it stood lonely amongst blitzed ruins and encased in checkpoint security, now it is splendid and surrounded by the confident new buildings of a united country.

Summing up: thanks to the persistence of activists like Michael Cromer, author of my guidebook and one time chair of Berlin City transportation committee, the Wall did not disappear without trace as many wished. The Trail combines recreation, nature, history, art and contemplation. It keeps us aware of the recent past and warns us against its repetition.

I have often wished that we had retained even a small example of the WWII bomb damage in London just to concentrate our minds.

The next post is a very special contribution …

Stage 13 – Wollankstraße to Nordbahnhof

This is a short stage in a built up area so it is full of interest and I have to be selective.

It includes the crossing at Bornholmer Strasse which was the first to burst open on 9th November 1989 allowing East Berliners and their “Trabis” unrestricted entry to West Berlin. Who can forget those scenes of joy as they experienced freedom of movement for the first time in decades.

In 1953 a tram from East Berlin approached the western part of its route. It was driven by a woman and since this was illegal in West Berlin, it was stopped. The East took this opportunity to split the tram system in two. And so it remained until after reunification.

The Mauer park was established after a campaign by local residents who realised that nature was reclaiming the old Death Zone. It is a place of recreation, music, play, a children’s farm and a famous flea market.

The oval shaped timber clad Church of the Reconciliation stands in the former border zone where in 1985 the GDR demolished the Versohnungskircher. The new building incorporates relics from its predecessor and houses a documentation centre.

In Bernauer Strasse are memorials to desperate folk who jumped from their apartments, later demolished, onto the pavement below which was in the West. More than 89 left safely through tunnels.

Marianne Birthler and other activists in the GDR revolution celebrated its success in Bernauer Strasse on 1st July 1990. On this day the Deutsche Mark became the official currency of a united Germany and the last border controls were removed. In September 2000 Marianne took charge of the Stasi surveillance files. When these were opened and people learned that friends and family had been spying on them, relationships broke down and many had to move far away from their familiar community or be forever ostracised.

Local post script: speaking of walls, this flagstone in Edinburgh’s Grassmarket indicates the route of the Flodden Wall, completed in 1560 to protect the City in case of an English invasion after the Battle of Flodden in which King James IV was killed. He was the grandfather of Mary Queen of Scots. The wall was 24′ high and enclosed 140 acres. Parts of it can still be seen in Greyfriars Kirkyard and in The Vennel, but most of it was demolished by 1870

Stage 12 – Helmsdorf to Wollankstraße

Lübars, first mentioned in 1247, is the last remaining village within Berlin city limits. It is part of a large recreation area and surrounded by fields and meadows. One feature is a viewpoint made on a mound of rubble from WWII bomb damage. In 1990 the wall was still standing in this area and an impatient farmer drove his tractor through it. Nearby was the Blankenfelde camp. From 1941-45 it housed labourers brought from the East by the Nazis and who had become too sick to work. Seven hundred are known to have been allowed to die in conditions of dreadful neglect.

In Schöneholze park is the cemetery and memorial of 13000 soldiers of the Red Army who died in the battle to liberate Berlin and defeat Hitler’s Nazi regime.

The Wollankstrasse S-bahn station where this stage ends is an example of the complexity of transport systems during the division of the city. The line was used by West Berlin passengers but the entire station was within GDR territory. It was staffed by East Berlin railway staff, displayed East German advertisements and yet East Germans were not allowed inside. The Border Wall closed off the north east exit. Where it stood are now more of the Japanese cherry trees.

Throughout the years of division frequent meetings took place between the four administrative powers. Small areas of land would be exchanged to make access and different transport routes more convenient.

Stage 11 – Hohen Neuendorf to Hemsdorf 

The beginning of this stage formed the outer border of the GDR and was sealed off from 1952 with walls, fences, floodlights and a patrol road. Dunes were levelled to provide clear sight and fire lines. It was one of a few stretches patrolled by dogs. A watchtower now serves as a base for nature conservation. Watchtowers were 500 meters apart. Each had one officer and three guards, and there was a holding cell in case of arrests.

Near the lake Hubertsee is the Bieselfliess. This small river was re-routed to make way for border installations and returned to its natural bed in the 1990s.

In 1986 the two Germanies were arranging a visit by GDR leader Erich Honecker to the West German capital, Bonn. When 25 year old Michael Bittner was shot attempting to escape the authorities wanted to avoid damaging relations. Accordingly they covered up his death and told his mother he had escaped successfully. Only after the Wall came down did she learn the truth. His memorial is in central Berlin.

Stage 10 – Heningsdorf to Hohen Neuendorf

A ten kilometre scenic route takes us past the last border crossing to be opened, in 1982. Traffic between Hamburg and West Berlin was increasing during the 1970s so the GDR built an expressway, financed by West Germany, with a crossing at Stolpe. This route was for West Berliners travelling to Scandinavia. Hamburg traffic still went through the old Staaken crossing. The distance from Hamburg was 135 miles and in early 1970s the road was too rough for my sister and her husband to consider risking the journey even to see Berlin.

Passing through the Invalidensiedlung, built in 1937 for disabled veterans of WWI, we come to Hohen Neuendorf in Brandenburg.

Here in 1980 Marienetta Jerkowsky and two companions found ladders and used them to clmb the inner wall. Spotted by guards who opened fire, the man escaped but Marienetta was fatally wounded. She was one of very few women who attempted to escape and her story is told on an Information marker. The long arm of the Stasi reached her two companions in West Berlin and they were warned not to make their story public. Like most people who escaped, they still had family in the East who could be used as hostages.

Local post script: a boundary between wheels and feet on the cycle track in Edinburgh’s Meadows. The crossing place is safe.

Stage 9 – Staaken to Henningsdorf

Staaken was the site of a garden city, started in 1914 and providing family homes with small gardens for a modest rent. Residents joined a cooperative and obtained food and household supplies for reasonable prices.

Nearby was an outpost of Sachsenhausen concentration camp. From 1943 until liberation in 1945 about two thousand men from all over Europe were housed there, providing forced labour for munitions factories and maintenance yards.

The Spandauer forest on the GDR side of the border was a restricted zone. This allowed wildlife to thrive undisturbed and it has become an important nature reserve.

At Nieder Neundorf the restored guard tower is now a museum of life on the border between the divided German states. It used to control several other towers and monitored electronic security systems.

For the ambitious amongst you, this Stage includes part of the 630 kilometre Berlin to Copenhagen cycle trail.

Local postscript: another blend of original George Square buildings and the more modern university development. In the far distance you can see Salisbury Crags where James Hutton in the mid 1700s noticed lava protruding between basalt columns. He developed the theory that the rock formations of the earth were formed over many years by underground volcanic activity, and crossed a border between the bible and science.

Stage 8 – Wannsee to Staaken

Wannsee is Europe’s largest inland public beach and a popular venue in summer. In the winter of 1942 it was the site of the notorious conference that drew up detailed plans for the elimination of European Jews. Reinhard Heydrich was put in charge and eleven million victims were predicted. This is the number of enslaved Africans who were trafficked to North and South America and the Caribbean during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.

Gatow airport is located on this stage. It was an RAF air base and featured in the Berlin Airlift of 1948-49. Stalin hoped to encourage the USA to withdraw from Europe and to extend Soviet influence across the whole of Germany and the rest of Europe. In June 1948 he closed road, rail and canal links to West Berlin. Three flight paths had been agreed and with phenomenal logistical planning, the Allied Air Forces flew in enough supplies to keep more than two million people fed and warm for over a year. One aircraft arrived every three minutes round the clock. The USA thus became aware of the extent of the Soviet threat in Europe, and German citizens were drawn towards supporting the West. Stalin lifted the blockade in May of 1949. The Allies stockpiled three months worth of supplies and remained ready to do it all again if necessary.

Three successful escapes took place with flights into Gatow, which is now a museum.

Local postscript: a lovely spring day in Edinburgh, exploring the Meadows before going further into town. New buildings in the development on the site of the old Royal Infirmary are flanked by original ones, so the history of the place cannot be forgotten.

Stage 7 – Griebnitzsee to Wannsee

The border ran through the centre of Griebnitzsee but GDR citizens were not permitted to enjoy the water.

Villas nearby were used by Allied leaders during the Potsdam Conference of July 1945. Roosevelt, who trusted Stalin to keep his word, had died in April and was replaced by the more realistic Harry S. Truman. Churchill, who always thought Stalin a necessary evil in the fight against the worse evil of Nazism, attended the first part of the Conference but after the General Election he was replaced by the incoming Prime Minister Clement Attlee. Stalin was a constant of both Yalta and Potsdam, and here the arrangements for the post-war division of Europe were made as well as decisions to avoid the disastrous settlement that followed WWI.

Crossing the river that comes out of Griebnitzsee is the famous Glienicker Bridge, known as the Bridge of Spies. In a secluded area, it was chosen by the Soviets for the first and best known prisoner exchange. A Russian spy, captured in New York and known as Rudolf Abel though born William Fisher in Newcastle upon Tyne, was exchanged for Gary Powers. Powers was the pilot of a secret U-2 spy plane which had been shot down over Sverdlovsk in 1960. It failed to self destruct and the CIA was concerned that Powers would give away vital information about the plane to his captors.

Local postscript: speaking of bridges, this one is not really on the Border but crossing the Tweed is a symbolic homecoming.

Stage 6 – Lichtenfeld Süd to Griebnitzsee

This is a longer stage of about twelve miles, again through countryside. Perhaps this is why many escape attempts were made here. Sadly several were unsuccessful as shown by the memorial markers that we pass. One memorial is dedicated to “all the victims of the division of Germany”.

Checkpoints Alpha and Bravo are on this stage, used by Western Allies and now an historical monument. Nearby is a surviving observation tower.

A seemingly random turning circle shows where the Wall blocked the road and vehicles had to turn round and go back the way they came.

Universum Film AG was set up at Babelsberg in 1912 and was a great success. In 1933 it was taken over by Joseph Goebbels and produced more than a thousand propaganda films for the Nazis. It is now a major European film production facility with twenty one sound stages.

Local postscript: a lovely boundary between the quiet anchorage at Cramond and choppier waters in the Firth of Forth

Stage 5 – Lichtenrade to Lichterfelde Sὓd

This is a short stage, scenic and mostly open countryside with few traces left of the border.

This does not mean it is without interest. It was the site of the Notaufnahmelager, the emergency reception centre for refugees from behind the Iron Curtain. In order to avoid attracting attention people often travelled from the East with no luggage whatsoever. The centre was opened in 1953 . People were given food, clothing and shelter, and after completing admission procedures they were flown to West Germany where they would be allocated to one or other of the federal German states.

Nearby was the Parks Range “ghost town”, an area that until the early 1990s was used by the US army to train in house to house combat. It is now demolished and locals hope it will remain a nature park.

The longest of the cherry tree avenues gifted by Japan is in this area, with tables and benches where you can relax and enjoy a picnic.

Stage 4 – Schὂnefeld to Lichtenrade

Much of this stage follows the Kolonnenweg, the paved route used by GDR patrol vehicles when looking for escape attempts across the so called “death strip”. This was 100 meters wide between the original wall and an inner fence. The ground was raked gravel and it was brightly lit with observation towers giving clear lines of sight and fire. It could be seen from trains passing through East Berlin and appears in the film Bridge of Spies.

A friend recalls travelling through East Germany by train in the 1980s. Armed guards at the end of each carriage ensured that no one moved between carriages or got off at an unauthorised station.

There was little space for rubbish dumps in West Berlin so in 1972 the Marlow check point was set up allowing bin lorries to come from the West. A tunnel was built under the access road so border guards could patrol without interruption, and this tunnel is now part of the cycle track.

This stage passes through undeveloped landscape of southern Berlin. You will see memorials here to Horst Kὓllack aged 23 and two further victims of the border guards. There is no accurate record but it is thought that around two hundred people lost their lives trying to escape across the Wall.

Local postscript.: This wall and its tree filled buffer zone serves the useful purpose of keeping traffic noise and pollution away from nearby houses. The Edinburgh white squirrel lives here. I’ve seen it once and keep hoping for another sighting.

Stage 3 – Schonewerde to Schὂnefeld

We follow a road before entering a landscaped park where most of the stage is on a cycle track. Early on you can visit a former Nazi camp for forced labourers. This one is the last in Berlin and is now a documentation centre.

Rudower Hill, a former rubbish dump to the west of the Wall, was in 1972 Turned into a recreation area. There was a toboggan run, a ski slope and a viewing platform where people could go to catch sight of friends and relatives on the other side.

 Under this stage ran the Berlin spy tunnel which entered the Soviet sector and for eleven months until it was discovered enabled Western intelligence agencies to monitor thousands of calls between Soviet military personnel. A section is on display in the Allied Museum.

The stage ends at the checkpoint used by West Germans and foreign nationals to reach Schὂnefeld airport. Tickets had to be bought with western currency, of great value to the GDR.

Stage2 – Warschamer Strasse to Schöneweide

More back and forthing in Edinburgh for another city stage.

Crossing the Oberbraumebrucke over the Spree river you can see the East Side Gallery clearly. The longest surviving stretch of wall, it was painted in 1990 by 118 artists from 21 countries. It is a monument to the “peaceful negotiation of borders and conventions between societies and people”. One picture is of a “Trabi”, the ubiquitous East German car, bursting through the Wall. This reminds us that cars were in short supply in the GDR. If you were expecting a baby you had to put your name on a waiting list right away to have a chance of getting your vehicle in time for the birth.

One of the total of eighteen checkpoints was on the bridge and was for pedestrians only. A long jetty nearby was a waterway checkpoint, built to prevent a repeat of a successful escape by twelve people in a pleasure boat. This stage also saw tunnel escapes. During the existence of the Wall, 5,000 people succeeded in escaping from East Germany.

Near the end of this stage is a park planted with cherry trees presented by Japan to celebrate reunification.

Local postscript: it’s cherry blossom time here, one of the best times of the year.

Stage 1 – Potsdammer Platz to Warschamer Strasse

In 1989 many Berliners wanted the hated wall to disappear entirely, and much of it was destroyed or taken as souvenirs. Luckily and after much discussion a significant part survived, sometimes protected with historic monument status, made into art projects or memorials and it is now possible to follow nearly all of the route in its original location with a few detours due to transport links or return of confiscated property. To follow the route yourself go to Berlin Wall Trail – Berlin.de

The first is a short 7 km stage of the Berlin Wall Trail, but being in the city centre is packed with landmarks from all eras of Berlin’s history. In the spirit of urban tourism I put in the distance wafting between art galleries and eateries in bright but chilly Edinburgh.

Part of the route here is marked by a double row of cobble stones. A two hundred metre stretch of wall survives in Zimmerstrasse and here you can also see  an exhibition about the notorious State Security Services or Stasi. Nearby is the site of the famous Checkpoint Charlie. Each checkpoint was for a different group of users, and this one was for foreign nationals.

A short distance further on is a sobering memorial to a tragic event. Despite the wall escape attempts continued. On 17th August 1962 Peter Fechte made his bid for freedom. His friend was successful but Peter was shot and dieLichtenrade to Lichterfelde Sὓdd in the so called Death Zone between the outer and inner walls. He was eighteen years old. We will see more such memorials on our journey.