History - Cold War, Berlin
A little away from the tourist trail on the northern fringes of now-yuppified Prenzlauer Berg the past, as so often in Berlin, intrudes, but only to demonstrate how much the city has changed in a few short years. When we visited in 1985 Bernauer Straße was a curiosity for tourists and a tragedy for its own inhabitants – a street divided along its length by the Berlin Wall. Former neighbour faced neighbour across one of the narrowest strips of No Man’s Land. And this was also the site of some of the most famous escape attempts, including that of Conrad Schumann, a 19 year old GDR border guard who leapt the barbed wire here while the Wall was being constructed. Schumann made it safely but others did not, and today a memorial to some who died in the attempt can be found part-way along Bernauer Straße on its northern side (about halfway between Bernauer Straße station (U8) and the Mauerpark). Photo one shows Bernauer Straße in 1985, at its junction with Ackerstraße, while photo two shows the memorial to those who died near here.
See http://iconicphotos.wordpress.com/2009/05/11/conrad-schumann-defects/ for more about Conrad Schumann – his story has a sad ending.
Today, the 1,200 soldiers of the 3rd US Infantry are placing these small American flags at each of the more than 260,000 gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery. They will then patrol 24 hours a day during the weekend to make sure that each flag remains standing until May 28, when the Memorial Day ceremony takes place. The President will lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns. On May 27, the Rolling Thunder will roar into Washington on their annual rally to honor Vietnam veterans and to demand the return of all MIA’s. On May 28, thousands will visit the Vietnam War Memorial and touch Wall; others will visit the Korean War Memorial. And plans have been approved for a long overdue World War II memorial. Thousands of towns and cities across America will present their own Memorial Day celebrations, from the smallest villages which bring out their only fire truck and the Boy Scouts, to the largest cities with elaborate parades and speeches. There are 70,000 gravestones of Americans who rest on foreign soil where they fell, from the hillsides of Naples to the rows of cliffs overlooking the Normandy shore. And they will be visited also. As they should be. But where are the graves of those who lost their lives in the Cold War? And where is their memorial? We also need to recognize those who give their lives protecting us, not surrounded by comrades, but by killers—not given a hero’s funeral, but an unmarked grave—not killed in combat, but by treachery. At the NSA there is a memorial wall named They Served in Silence, which honors NSA employees killed in the line of duty. At the CIA, there is a granite wall carved with 77 stars. Each star represents an intelligence officer who gave his or her life in the line of duty. There are 77 stars, but how many died, anonymously, without recognition, without acknowledgment, we’ll never know. I am working toward a museum that will honor all the men and women who worked for democracy and freedom during the Cold War. The museum is not about reviving old hatreds, but rather about promoting lessons learned. It’s about teaching democracy and world peace. But here, today, in this place, this is our time to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice, who gave their life for their country, who understood that the true meaning of life is to make a difference. They have made a difference, and our lives and our country have been moved by their deeds.
Francis Gary Powers, Jr.
The Cold War Museum
This was a surprising memorial I found out about while walking to the Reichstag.
It is between the Brandenburger Tor and the Reichstag, and it consists of a fence with white crosses with the names and dates of death of people who died attempting to cross the Berlin Wall.
It is a simple monument, but it's meaning and emotional effects are tremendous.
Berlin is a city where there is so much history around it, but where a lot of the time you just don't actually realize it. On the first night of my visit I stayed in the East near Rosenhalter Platz. The following morning I went for a wander in the neighbourhood and ended up in Bernauer Strasse. This street was the scene of many daring escapes and brave escape attempts while the wall divided the city (one half of the street was in the west, the other in the east) - yet it barely got a mention in my guidebook.
Along the street there were signs describing some of these escapes, in particular the famous run and jump by Conrad Schumann, an East German soldier. Further down the street, heading west, there was a memorial for wall victims and a remaining piece of the wall. It felt rather eerie standing there, trying to imagine how the people would have felt being boxed in.
I spent well over an hour exploring this street, but it made me think that since little of this history is told in the tourist books, what other interesting streets and stories had I missed?
Rathaus Schöneberg is the place where a former US president called himself a donut!
On his visit to the city in 1963, President John F Kennedy, in a famous speech, said "Ich bin ein Berliner". This sounds reasonable to me, but what he really wanted to say was "Ich bin Berliner".
Nevertheless he was extremely popular with the people of West Berlin and the square outside the Rathaus was renamed John-F.-Kennedy-Platz after his visit.
Rathaus Schöneberg was the city hall for west Berlin while the city was divided but since reunification it has resumed its former role as city hall for the Schöneberg district.
American Veterans return to Germany for Anniversary of the Berlin Airlift on June 27, 2008.
Dub Southers recalled the grueling hours he worked at Celle Air Base at the start of the Berlin Airlift as a flight engineer and crew chief. He remembered well the coal being shipped in from local coal fields, the 196 missions he flew over Berlin and being a 20-year-old Air Force Staff Sergeant keeping the C-54 Skymaster aircraft flying. Air bases in Rhein-Main, Wiesbaden, Celle and Fassberg served as the supply depot for food, coal and other items to be delivered, as well as home and repair shop for the C-47s and C-54s that flew daily roundtrips into West Berlin. It wasn't until 1998 that he started really thinking about the importance of the airlift mission, which lasted from June 1948 to May 1949 and provided vital resources to the German city (of Berlin) cut in half by Soviet rule. For the 60th anniversary of Berlin Airlift they will re-enact the first flight of the airlift, Dub Southers said, and visit the memorial at Rhein-Main Air Base, get on a C-47 and fly the corridor from Frankfurt to Templehof Air Base in Berlin, where there will be another memorial service. "When I first got over there (Celle Air Base), we were working around the clock, 12 hrs on, 12 off, seven days a week. They eventually hired local German aircraft mechanics who worked alongside us. I remember them being very good, as they were older and more experienced .." He said by observing the anniversary and remembering the 31 Americans who died in aircraft accidents during the mission, Americans learn about the importance of the Berlin Airlift. "At this point, I'm very proud of being a part of it," he said. "I know that we affected history big-time. We call it the first victory of the Cold War. Because of the Berlin Airlift, Europe is free. All of Europe would have ended up communist if we were run out." He said during his first return to Germany, Germans actually approached him with appreciation. "We were wearing caps that identified us as Berlin Airlift Veterans, and I don't know how many times we were stopped and thanked for what we did," he said. He said he does not feel like a hero. "The real heroes were the German people in Berlin who suffered the things they put up with in the Eastern Zone," he said. "People just disappeared under the communist rule, because they were speaking out for freedom. We provided what they needed to get by. They are the ones who held out and persevered."
It happened in 1987 when I was 19 years old. We made a car tour throughout Europe; in 13 countries with my boyfriend of that time. We wanted to visit DDR and East-Berlin too. It was exciting to drive the "Transit BRD" highways, meant only for western visitors' use. Stopping was allowed only at certain marked places; to avoid contact with the locals.
First to West-Berlin of course. When I was about to hand our passports on the border of West- and East Germany, the frontier guard just said, without taking our passports, "Ah, Finnland, gehen sie".
Spent some days in West-Berlin. Then left the car beside the colourful Berlin wall and walked towards the east. Then, on the border of West and East Berlin our passports were verified and checked four times.
It was a strange experience to see how the western life and joy (Berlin had its 750's anniversary) changed immediately to something weird. Like we'd dived back in time some 50 years. No cars, perhaps one or two Trabants or Wartburgs every now and then. Nobody nowhere. The Polizei seemed to have Wartburgs as their official cars.
The Berliner Dom (church) was great, and a couple of other buildings. Otherwise I don't remember anything worth remembering.
I always remember, when coming back to the west waiting at Checkpoint Charlie, those few American guys near us. They seemed to be serious when they stated to each other "Oh I love to see the stars and stripes again".
Within Treptower Park in the former East Berlin, there is a cemetery dedicated to the Soviet soldiers that died fighting during the battle for Berlin in the last weeks of WWII. The cemetery was quiet when i visited, i was one of the few people there. In the centre of the cemetery there is a statue of the 'ideal soviet soldier' holding a child and crushing the swastika with a sword. On either side of him are murals dictating the soviet peoples' struggle throughout the war with quotes from Stalin translated to German. The Red Granite flags apparently came from Hitler's Chancellery.
On the western side of Ebertstraße between Branderburg Gate and Reichstag on the edge of Tiergarten park and on the place where the Belin wall stood, there was a special place to commemorate victims of the Berlin Wall.
There were numerous white crosses hang on the fence. There were names of the victims shot to death by East German guards while they tried to cross the wall, old photographs, flowers on each of them. Totally 192 persons were killed and approx. 200 injured on the Wall.
May 8, 1945 - World War II is over and Berlin is divided into 4 sectors: the American, British, French in the West and the Soviet in the East.
May 24, 1949 - Federal Republic of Germany is founded (West Germany).
October 7, 1949 - German Democratic Republic is founded (East Germany).
May 26, 1952 - Border between East and West Germany and between East Germany and West Berlin is closed. Only the border between East and West Berlin is still opened.
June 17, 1953 - Uprising of East Berlin building workers against the imposition of increased working norms, division of Germany and Soviet authorities, suppression by Red Army tanks.
August 13, 1961 - The Berlin sectorial border between East and West Berlin is closed at weekend night, barriers are built, then the wall (four generations).
August 26, 1961 - All crossing points are closed for West Berlin citizens.
June 26, 1963 - US President J. F. Kennedy visits Berlin and says: "Ich bin ein Berliner." ("I am a Berliner.").
December 17, 1963 - West Berliner citizen may visit East Berlin the first time after more than two years.
September 10, 1989 - Hungarian government opens border for East German refugees.
November 9, 1989 - Berlin Wall is opened.
December 22, 1989 - Brandenburg Gate is opened.
October 3, 1990 - Germany is reunited.
There was wide boulevard east of Branderburg Gate which together with Unter den Linden formed east-west axis of Berlin. This street was widen by Hitler to room huge military Nazi parades.
The boulevard is called Straße des 17. Juni to commemorate events which happened on 17 June 1953. On that day workers from East Berlin rised against Soviet authorities which occupied so called East Germany. They demanded free elections, removing borders divided two German states and freedom for political prisoners. The Soviet forces killed unknown number of Germans (200 - 400) during bloody fights. Futhermore 21 Berliners and 18 Soviet soldiers were accused of "moral capitulation on demonstraters".
See if you can find traces of the time when Berlin was still a divided city. If you walk where the Berlin Wall used to be, you find can still find some interesting things, but who knows how long they will remain...
The "Cafe im Grenzbereich" is located off of Schlesische Strasse in Kreuzberg, just before the Oberbaumbruecke crosses the Spree. "Cafe im Grenzbereich" means "Cafe in the Border Region" and refers to the time when this part of the Spree formed the border between West and East. "Wessis" used to be able to eat their breakfast in the street outside this cafe because the street dead-ended in the Wall. It's no longer a cafe, but the sign remains.
On the western side of Ebertstraße between Branderburg Gate and Reichstag there was a special place to commemorate victims of the Berlin Wall with neglected large info table on Checkpoint Charlie Museum (Mauermuseum Haus am Checkpoint Charlie) but exclusively in German language. The museum was located 20 min. away at the place where the former border crossing point between East and West Berlin was and where Soviet and American tanks stood face to face, after the construction of the Wall in 1961.
From 1961 to 1990, Checkpoint Charlie was the only border crossing point for the Allies, foreigners, employees of the Permanent Representation and officials of the GDR (DDR).
I was driving Friedrichstraße and passed by the museum. I could see large Soviet red star painted on the building and the reconstructed frontier house with a border sign and a soldier's post in front of the museum - put in the middle of quite busy street. There were a few visitors taking pictures there.
I wanted to stop the car but... I coudn't. I didn't have enough time. As I am very interested in the topic I am sure it would take me more time. I wanted at least to take a few pictures there but there was no place (or I didn't know) to park a car there. Anyway, it will be my first must see in Berlin next time.
Mauermuseum Haus am Checkpoint Charlie
10969 Berlin - Kreuzberg
Daily: 9.00 am - 10.00 pm :-))) - unique in Berlin!
U-bahn: Kochstraße (U6) - walk approx 200 m north Friedrichstraße, the museum on your right when you cross Kochstraße (before Zimmerstraße).
This wooden cross on my picture stood on the western side of Ebertstraße between Branderburg Gate and Reichstag. It commemorated death of Heinz Sokolowski from Frankfurt/Oder (East Germany) who was shot on the wall by East German border guards at age 47 on November 25, 1965.
There was the inscription on the cross: "Heinz Sokolowski 48 J. Ost-Berlin + 25.11.65 nach 7 Jahren DDR-Haft erschossen auf der Flucht." I was a little surpriced because the name Sokolowski ("ski" at the end) sounded more Polish or rather Slavic than German. Poland and Germany had common history and partly territory and population of both countries mixed in the past.
Over 2.6 million of East Germans escaped to West Berlin or West Germany from 1949 to 1961.
Many people suffered repressions of the Communist regime or wanted to live a better life in the West.
The East German communist government put to power in real by Soviet Union authorities decided to build the wall to prevent from escaping to the West via West Berlin and closed the border between East and West Berlin on August 13, 1961.
Today, most of the Berlin Wall has been taken down. You'll see parts of it in Museums such as the "History of Berlin Museum" in Berlin's Charlettonburg District. You'll see portions of it still standing in an area near the Brandenburg Gate.
You'll see pieces of it sold as souvenoirs. But they may be fake. But, what you'll also see is two bricks side-by-side. In this picture is says: "Berliner Mauer 1961-1989." Mauer means "wall" in English.
Here I am standing in East and West Berlin at the same time 16 years later. In Berlin, one the reminder of the wall is now two bricks in a path. This one is near Potsdammerplatz.
What many people forget when they are in Berlin is searching one of the famous Trabant cars. They aren't anymore on the streets, but surely have a place in the Berlin history. When the Berlin Wall was pulled down, it also meant the end of Trabant. Legendary cars!