Which way is east?

Before last week, what I knew about Berlin would have fit on the back of a milk carton. Think Berlin – think the wall. Visiting the wall (or what’s left of it) has been on my list of things to do since I first read a John Le Carré novel. The boundary between east and west has fascinated me – and the thought of two such diverse ways of life living in the shadow of the same wall is hard to imagine.

First built during the night of 13 August 1961, the wall was regenerated four times. The second wall was built in June 1962 and the first renovated to make it even more difficult to breach. The third generation appeared in 1965 – a more advanced structure with concrete slabs between steel girders. The final iteration came ten years later in 1975. Some basic facts: In its heyday, the wall boasted 302 watch towers and stood  3.6m (11.81 ft.) high. 96 miles (155 km) long, the border between East and West Berlin stretched for 27 miles (43.1 km).  Today, a 300 m section has been retained and around the city, sections have been used as a canvas and stand as living testimony to a division that is now a but a memory.

There is one stretch near Potsdam Platz where you can walk along the foundation. A line of bricks shows where the wall once stood. Straddling this line, and looking right and left it’s impossible to discern a difference in the two landscapes. I was thoroughly confused for most of the weekend – and never more so than when we were at Checkpoint Charlie. I am convinced that the sign is back to front.Either that, or my sense of direction and ability to read a map are both a lot worse than I’d ever imagined.

Standing in front of this sign, I had my back to Alexander Platz, which is firmly rooted in the former East Berlin. So how is it possible that I could be leaving the American sector? It did my head in. But not enough to distract me from the reality of what happened and the numbers of people who died trying to escape to the west.

5 replies
  1. Tim Child
    Tim Child says:

    It was one great life experiences going into East Berlin for the first time. We drove in and the car was searched thoroughly. The cars were searched in both direction. For instance we were not permitted to take a map into the Russian sector which showed anything of the west. We also had to change money – if I recall correctly 50 East Germany Marks a day. This was very difficult to spend. At one point we sat in the poshest restaurant in the city trying to spend the money on food we did not need and then we realised we were sitting next to a local couple sharing a coffee because they could not afford anything else. You became aware of the Stasi very quickly. At one point one came over to talk to me, complete with dark leather jacket even though it was summer, and asked me to be careful with my passport as he spotted two guys watching me.

  2. Steven Micallef
    Steven Micallef says:

    Well, on the pic the sign say “You are entering…..” not Leaving, the American sector. So, if you had your back to Alexander Platz, which is firmly rooted in the former East Berlin, you would be leaving that sector and not the American, which you would have been entering!!!!

  3. Bernard Adams
    Bernard Adams says:

    I always like the tale of the two East German border guards in their watchtower, in front of them the lights and activity of West Berlin, behind them the dark and quiet of the East. Hans says, ‘Fritz, do you know what I’m thinking?’ Fritz replies ‘”Reckon so.’ Hans: ‘Then I must arrest you.’


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