East Berlin, November 1989
The Todesstreifen, the deadly ‘safety zone’ along the GDR border, ran right past my house-cum-FD office in Frohnau, a remote corner of Berlin with an erratic borderline where for four decades, until November 1989, the north, east and west were East and the south the west.
In the years that we lived there, the Wall had already disappeared for a decade, but the Todesstreifen on the edge of the buildings was still so recognizable that it didn’t take much imagination to imagine the Wall and the watchtowers. The zone, about 100 meters wide, was already somewhat overgrown. Between the bushes ran a tarnished, asphalted path, then for the Vopos to patrol, now ideal for cycling or for a short walk between stories.
For a Germany correspondent, it is much more convenient to live in the center of the city. The closer to the Bundeskanzleramt, the better. But perhaps it was the noisy confrontation with the dichotomy still fresh in everyone’s mind that drew this correspondent to the far corner of the city. In every part of Berlin that confrontation was there, and even more so with memories from the Second World War. But Frohnau, which was in the French occupation zone from 1945 to October 3, 1990, was one of the special corners.
There was the Entenschnabel, a dead-end street that lay on the territory of the GDR, but which penetrated deep into this district of West Berlin. A wall also ran around this street, with a narrow Todesstreifen. A commemorative plaque and a piece of the Wall are still nearby, with a memorial a little further on in memory of a GDR refugee who was shot down. I passed it every day, on my way to the Kita, the city center or a Russian bakery in Brandenburg, on the other side of the former Todesstreifen.
And yes, chats with neighbors soon revealed the stories of that time. About the bullets you could hear whizzing by at night, for example. No, I was never able to use those anecdotes directly for the FD. But to understand Germany, it did help.
FD colleague Maurits Kuypers has been a correspondent in Berlin for years. In 2009 he cycled along the route where the Wall used to be, in the city and on the border with Brandenburg. “I drove the entire 155 kilometers then, and a lot more if you add all the extra trips from the Muur away,” says Maurits. On Friday afternoon he drove a short part of the route again, from Johannisthal in Treptow to Bornholmer Straße, where border guards cleared the barriers on 9 November 1989 at half past eleven.
This story was posted on November 10, 2014 on Frank Gersdorf’s blog on the Financieel Dagblad website. © Financieel Dagblad, 2014