Hearing the news of the commemoration of the fall of the Berlin Wall reminded me of the visit I made to that city when the Russians still controlled a large part of Germany.
For those of you who do not know, the Berlin Wall was built after an estimated 2.5million East German people had fled to the West from 1949-1961, many of them skilled personnel.
In 1961, The Volkskammer, or People’s Chamber, who controlled East Berlin, decided to build a wall to cut off the means of escape to the West, with armed guards day and night to prevent people crossing over.
The wall was built as straight as possible. In one place it was built through a small shop, leaving the front window on the western side and the rest of the premises in what was literally no man’s land. There was a large space between the two borders, with barriers and mines to deter escapees. It was here that many were shot trying to make their way to the West.
When I was invited to spend a few days in Berlin, the airlift had finished.
The Royal Air Force had run a shuttle service with food and essentials over the Russian territory, to the British Sector, for some months before.
The conditions for the German people seemed to be on the mend, so British European Airways decided to commence a new route to West Berlin, and I was offered a ticket to fly on the new service.
It was with some sense of excitement and slight apprehension that I left Heathrow for my first visit to Germany, not knowing the language and wondering how I would get on.
On arrival, I managed to get on the right bus, and the friendly conductor understood where my hotel was, and saw that I got off at the correct stop.
The hotel staff spoke good English, and made me welcome. The following day, I took to sightseeing, and found that a tour bus commenced its journey right opposite my hotel.
This gave a good opportunity to see the city, to walk up the steps of the Olympic Stadium and view that vast arena where Hitler had held some of his huge rallies. The last part of the tour was to the Berlin Wall.
The bus followed part of its route, and stopped to allow visitors to mount some wooden steps and view the concrete ‘dragon’s teeth’ mounted in the area between the borders.
There was a church and steeple, the church having been closed as it was in between.
We were assured we were being closely watched from the steeple, as armed guards were mounted there, and they took a great interest in those who were looking over.
We were also advised not to try and take any photographs.
West Berlin had plenty of nightlife, while the East looked drab and forlorn.
I was told this was part of the strategy to promote a Free Berlin. So it was with great interest that I watched in 1989 as parts of the wall were destroyed.
My memory of the Berlin Wall is of looking over and seeing ‘no man’s land’ and being watched. By who? I shall never know.