In 1945 the war in Europe ended and the allies took over the administration of Berlin but there was soon a falling out between east & west as to how Berlin was to develop. The cold war had begun and was to last until 1990, the occupying powers eventually left Berlin in 1994. The exhibition is house in 2 different buildings and there is an outdoor exhibition in between. The Nicholson Memorial Library gives a history of the cold war and includes a section of a spy tunnel. A joint operation between the British & Americans who dug a tunnel 450m long and 6m underground into the Soviet section and tapped into the main telephone junction box to listen into thousands of telephone conversations between Berlin and Moscow. Unbeknown at the time the spy George Blake had tipped of the Soviets who let the operation go ahead so they could pass on misinformation. 11 months after the start of the tapping the soviets broke into their end of the tunnel and uproar followed. The other building is the Outpost Theatre which covers the events surrounding the Berlin Airlift. In 1948 the allies in the western part of Berlin wanted to introduce a new currency to also include the Soviet part. The Soviet were not happy with this proposal and wanted to get rid of the allies in the western part and attempted this by cutting off all surface routes to Berlin on the 27th June. If nothing had been done the population in west Berlin would have starved. The only way to get supplies into Berlin was by air and this continued until 12th May 1949 when the blockade was lifted. 2 millions tons of supplies had been brought into Berlin by 270,000 flights. Outside there is the original guardhouse from Checkpoint Charlie that was located on Friedrichstrasse, a French Railroad car and a British built Hastings Aircraft.
At the end of World War 2, thousands of tonnes of rubble from 400,000 damaged buildings were sent to Grunewald Forest to form an artificial hill 80 metres tall and called Devil’s Mountain. During the cold war the Americans built one to the largest listening posts in the world on top of the hill with uninterupted views to listen in the Soviets and East Germans. With the end of the cold all the equipment was removed and the station abandoned. Investors were going to build hotels and flats there was even talk of a spy museum. All of the plans have been abandoned and even with 3 layers of tall wire fencing the site has been vandalised. Having reached the post you can walk around the perimeter fencing to view the different structures and now listen to the wind blowing through the now empty towers.
Günter Litfin was the first people shot and killed on 24 August 1961 trying to flee from East Berlin to the West after the wall was put up on 13 August. Born on 19 January 1937 in Berlin he lived in the Weissensee District. When he was older he became a tailor in the western part of the city and commuted to his work place. Günter wanted to live in the west but knew this would cause problems for his family and therefore continued to live in east Berlin. After his father died in May 1961 he put off a move to look after his mother. Günter and his family visited relatives in the west on 12 August 1961 and returned home the same day. It came as a shock when the border was completely sealed the next day. There had been a number of successful escapes in the days following the wall being put up. At 4pm on 24 August 1961 Günter decided to attempt an escape to the west. He attempted to escape between the Friedrichstrasse and Lehrter train stations (now the Hauptbahnhof). He was spotted by transport police and he jumped into the water at Humboldt Harbour. The police fired at him and he was hit and killed. There is a memorial on the Sandkrugbrücke which is located on Invalidenstrasse. There is also a permanent memorial in the former watchtower at Kieler Str. 2, 10115 Berlin-Mitte. Günter's brother, Jürgen is sometimes on hand at the watchtower to assist. The hours are being changed at the watchtower so please check the website first.
The exhibition on the GDR's State Security is a new museum that opened in 2011. The museum is free as are the audio guides. It is difficult to imagine how much the Stassi was involved in everyone's lives. The amount of information that they collected is mind boggling; 111km of written documents, 39 million file cards and 1.4 million photographs. Bearing in mind the GDR's population was only 16 million in 1990.The exhibition covers 3 areas, The Ministry of State Security, Biographies, and The Ministry of State Security and Everyday Life. The museum is just round the corner from Checkpoint Charlie and is well worth a visit. The exhibition is closed Sundays & holidays.
I thought I might have a further look at walking where the Berlin Wall once stood from Checkpoint Charlie to Bösebrücke. I had downloaded an 'app' for my ipod and off I went. Though I have been to Potsdamerplatz and the surrounding area lots of timse this was the first time I had walked down Erna-Berger-Straße. Located towards the bottom of the road stands Berlin's last remaining BT-11 watchtower. It is easy to miss unless you look up because it only has a slender cylindrical body. The watch tower was moved after reunification 10 metres to the East from its original position because of the construction of a building. This type of watchtower was introduced in 1969 and gave good all round vision but because the guard had to use a narrow steel ladder inside the cylindrical body it was difficult to make a speedy exit. With a narrow body the watchtower was also unstable and was gradually replaced by the more spacious square type. The watchtower was given historical monument status in 2001.
It is 60 years since the Berlin Airlift and what was a major stand off between the Soviet Union and the other victorious powers of France, Great Britain and the United States. The blockade followed a dispute between the Soviet Union and the other western powers over the introduction of a new Deutsche Mark by the Allies. The Soviet Union imposed a blockade around Berlin only allowing access by air. Josef Stalin hoped by this move to get rid of the Allies out of Berlin but for once he under estimated the stubbornness of President Harry Truman. For nearly 1 year supplies were brought into Berlin mainly via Tempelhof Airport and a newly constructed airport that is now Tegel Airport. Eventually Stalin gave in and normal means of transport allowed again. This memorial was completed in 1951 and is dedicated to the 78 pilots and crew members that lost their lives. The memorial stands in a small park at the front of Tempelhof Airport.
The Palace of Tears was a border crossing point located on the northern side of the Berlin Friedrichstrasse railway station. Opened in 1962 after the lower level of the Friedrichstrasse railway station became too small. S-Bahn & U-Bahn trains from west Berlin stopped at the station and passengers from the west could change trains or enter east Berlin. Those from the east could not leave and hence when distressing goodbyes were made it was named the Palace of tears. After reunification the building was given listed building status in 1993 and was a night club until 2006. On 15 September 2011 a permanent 550 square metre exhibition of the crossing points history was opened by Chancellor Angela Merkel in the restored building. Entrance to the museum is free but bags must be stored in lockers. If you are passing it only takes about 1 hour to look around and gain an insight to life during this period of recent history.
The Stasi Exhibition is not as well known as the Stasi Museum but it is well worth a visit. If you speak to the staff at the reception they will provide you with a free guide in English as all the exhibits only have a German text. Some of the exhibits include the apparatus that was used to spy on people including the sniff jars or odour collection jars. If you have seen the German film ‘The lives of others’ you will have seen the use of sniff jars. When suspects were questioned their scent was collected from individual seat covers placed on the chair they had been sitting on and retained in sealed jars for trained dogs to sniff if needed. The method has been used since the GDR days to sniff out known trouble makers in a crowd of demonstrators using dogs. There are a number of listening devices, the interception of mail and cameras also on display. This is an excellent exhibition of the history of the Stasi with free entrance.
Rathaus Schöneberg was the seat of the West Berlin Government from1949 to 1990. Completed in 1914, the United States of America donated a copy of the liberty bell in 1950, which is still in the clock tower, to celebrate the end of the Berlin Blockade. The town hall became famous on 26th June 1963 when John F Kennedy made his ‘I am a Berliner’ speech on the steps of the Town Hall in front of a huge crowd. The speech regarded as one of Kennedy’s best is commemorated with a plaque in German outside the town hall entrance. The speech is remembered for the 'I am a Berliner' part which Kennedy spoke in German and whether he got this part wrong and called himself a doughnut or whether it is an urban legend and he got it right.
Almost hidden behind the trees, opposite the southern side of the Reichstag there is a memorial for victims of the Berlin Wall, which used to run only a few steps away.
The memorial has white crosses with names of people who were killed whilst trying to escape over the wall from East Germany. Some of the crosses also have photos of the deceased, with stories of how they attempted to flee to a better life.
It was pretty sobering to read and hard to imagine that all of this was only going on a few decades ago. Particularly sad was the story of the man who was shot dead only a short time before the two sides were unified.
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