The Berlin Wall came down. Odd to think today there is a generation who never knew the Cold War – or the Wall.
I remember when it went up – the images of people stuck on the eastern side, jumping out of windows to get across the wall. I could not believe – 25 years ago today – how quickly the borders from WW2 – changed.
Of families separated 27 years. Hard to believe there are people today who never grew up in this – or knew anything about it.
When I was in the Army – in Germany – 1973-1974 – I always wanted to get to Berlin. Never made it.
Unless you flew you took a troop train through East Germany run by an East German locomotive.
But I did get there in 1992. Had a boss who family came to California from what what was East Berlin – left in 1956. Told me if I wanted to see the DDR – Deutsche Demokratische Republik (German Democratic Republic) – and East Berlin – the way it was, I’d better go.
Even in 1992, the contrasts between east and west were astounding. The best analogy anyone ever gave on the comparison – of crossing from east to west – was watching a black & white movie suddenly turn to color. In the east, a lot of the streets renamed when the communists took over – now crossed off and the new street signs were going up. But you could walk down the streets and see chipped walls where the bullets of WW2 still left their mark.
The world-famous Pergamon Museum kept its splendor but most of what was East Berlin – was drab. The predominant colors were gray and brown.
Then to go west – and walk along West Berlin’s Kurfürstendamm – a Park Avenue and Fifth Avenue rolled into one – was unbelievable.
A couple of memories that have stayed with me in 1992 – driving on Autobahns in the East that looked like perfectly maintained – 1939 – Autobahns.
Which they were.
Coming to Dresden – unable to find any hotel in town – the building was starting – and finding a farm on the hills overlooking the city. A family owned it for 200 years and that evening, I sat outside with the farmer and talked about life under the DDR. Still seeing the blackened roofs from the firebombing of 1945. Seeing the outdoor cafes of Berlin still going strong at 3:00AM – those Berliners party hard.
I’d like to show you a bit of Berlin – as it was in 1992.
East and West are intermixed…Can you spot the difference?
You wouldn’t be able to today.
A Generation of Berliners knew Çheckpoint Charlie
An East German Trabant – “Trabbi” – it had a 2 stroke 2 cylinder engine that spewed smoke. East Germans would wait 10 years – and more – to own one.
The former headquarters of the Stasi – The East German secret police. If you want to have an idea of life in the GDR, the movie The Lives Of Others is highly recommended. Also Anna Funder’s book Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall is a must read. Both give you some idea of the soul-crushing life ordinary East Germans led. When the Wall came down, Germans were given the opportunity to come in here and read the files – many were surprised to discovered many friends and relatives were forced to become informers.
The world-famous Pergamon Museum –
Brandenburg Gate, where East and West were divided.
The SS and other Nazi fanatics hung many Berlin civilians in the closing days of the war. Two young soldiers were hung near this bridge.
Many Berliners were shot trying to swim across the Spey River.
The closest cross memorializes a 12 year old child, name unknown, shot while trying to escape to the West in May, 1969.
Ünter den Linden”- Under the Linden Trees, was Berlin’s “Embassy Row”before the War.
What was Potsdamer Platz – dividing East & West. I asked a locak where the Hitler Bunker was and he said “You’re standing right over it”. Sure enough, nearby was an old ventilation shaft.
A beer famous in Berlin – a “Berliner Weisse”
Those hills are made from Berlin’s WW2 rubble…
The Kurfürstendamm – beautiful shops – elaborate hotels…you can walk on it for miles