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