Today Deny is on her way to Berlin by train. In Berlin she will meet her friends and spend some days visiting Berlin’s interesting places. This gives me some time to reflect on my own journey to Berlin a long time ago, in 1989 to be precise!
In those days the Wall was still standing, ‘Checkpoint Charlie’ was still operational and not yet a museum. Berlin was separated in a Western and Eastern part of the city, like Germany itself was divided into two countries: West Germany with Bonn as the capital city and East Germany or DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik) as the East Germans themselves called it) which was actually a communistic satellite state of the Soviet Union). The eastern part of Berlin was the capital of the DDR and reflected the territory of Berlin that the Soviet Union occupied during World War II. The western part of Berlin was an enclave and knew a British, American and French sector. This picture will give you an impression of the complex situation of Berlin during that period.
As you can see from this image West Berlin was fully enclosed by East Germany. For me travelling by train from the Netherlands this meant I had to cross West and East Germany before arriving and staying in West Berlin. In those days there was a hostile relationship between the two countries, comparable to the situation nowadays in Korea. This hostility was mainly due to the difficult living situation in East Germany. East Germany was governed by the rule of dictatorship and the economic situation was becoming more and more deplorable.The East German government already feared since a long time that citizens would massively flee to West Germany and East Germany became more and more a fortress and the Berlin Wall, built in the early 60s was obviously the most prominent edifice of this isolation from the West. Travelling through East Germany I immediately felt the impact of this. When the train left the Netherlands into West Germany all doors of the train were automatically sealed, the train only had one destination on the programme: West Berlin. Soldiers and police were on the train and did intensive inspection of the bags that the travellers had with them. I vividly remember the border between West and East Germany: it was build not to let anyone pass it alive without permission.
I must admit that my memories of the West Berlin visit are a bit less clear than my one day visit of East Berlin. In West Berlin I remember visiting Spandau and the Kurfürstendamm, with its impressive KaDeWe shopping mall. Because of the Wall it was complex to travel from West to East and vice versa, there were however a few spots that would allow you to go from West to East. I think I passed East to West through a checkpoint at the Friedrichstrasse. There was an intensive inspection and you had to exchange money and everything that was left at the end of the day you had to return to the East German border control (of course I could not resist to take some East German money back into West Germany).
I can conclude my East Berlin visit shortly as: depressing yet fascinating. At the border just behind the Wall most houses were empty and guarded by soldiers. I remember visiting the Palast der Republik (Palace of the Republic) where the East German parliament was seated and the Fernsehturm a huge television tower in the city center. The Palast der Republik was dismantled in 2006, but the television tower is still present. Already in those days the tower had the rotating restaurant in the top of the building. The weather that day was dark and foggy so the promised beautiful view was absent. The food served in the restaurant was of terrible quality, which forced me to do a second meal later that night when I arrived back in West Berlin.
It was a strange situation, you could easily see that the East Berliners had a lower living standard than their Western counterparts that only lived a few blocks away on the other side of the Wall. Also the difficult situation of living under a communist dictatorship was a heavy burden for the East Berliners. I can recommend you the movie ‘Live of Others‘ that gives an adequate view on how life was in East Germany.
So at the end of the day I left with mixed feelings East Berlin and went back through the inspection point and walked back to the comfort and luxury of West Berlin. Not long after my visit there would be some dramatic changes in the situation in Berlin and East Germany. Due to upheaval in other communist states like Hungary, the East German people revolted against their government and as a result the Wall was broken down by the end of 1989. By the end of 1990 West and East Germany were reunited and Berlin became the capital for the reunited nations.
I am curious how Berlin is now in 2016 and am sure that Deny will share her experiences soon!
-Den Haag, 31 Juli 2016-
I am still in search for my pictures from West and East Berlin, but have not traced them yet. If you are curious what Berlin looked like in the late 1980s I can recommend the movie ‘Wings of Freedom‘.