We decided to slow our pace on Monday 27 after the challenging exposure to Luther and his friends yesterday. The blog definitely can’t be managed if one spends ten or eleven hours out of the house and then cooks and eats a relaxed dinner on one’s return! So today we set out after blogging and lunch to explore the recommended Bernauer Strasse section of the Wall to the north of the city centre. That proved to be another very reflective afternoon. Dwell a moment on the featured image for this blog.
The kilometre section we encountered started where the Wall cut through the St Sophia Congregation cemetery and continued along the southern side of Bernauer Strasse where many houses stood in 1961. Initially the Wall consisted of an outer concrete wall along the edge of the street as the divider with West Berlin. Over the cemetery section, the cemetery wall was pulled down, gravestones were removed and many graves were exhumed and re-buried elsewhere so the ground could be levelled between the Wall and a more flimsy barbed wire topped inner wall 50 to 100 metres inside East Berlin. Between the two was constructed a patrol road and a row of cemented-in railway iron obstructions to stop tanks or other vehicles.
Where houses existed – numbers 1 to about 14 Bernauer Strasse and beyond – the back door was in the East while the windows faced the street and provided access to the West. People were known to jump from upper windows to escape to the West. As that was clearly unsustainable for the GDR regime, in the early sixties they forced families to evacuate and then demolished their houses. The footprint of each individual demolished house is now marked permanently on the ground.
Some 150 persons died in their attempts to flee East Berlin over or under the Wall. There is a panel with the photographs of each of those persons. There are also circular markers on the ground identifying the attempt of individuals to cross the Wall. Many were killed but others were arrested and imprisoned as enemies of the State.
The Reconciliation Church of St Sophia, named as such after their experience of WWI, was a major obstacle at this point in the Wall. The Inner (East Berlin) Wall ran immediately past the doorway from the street through the tower to the sanctuary of the church. That door was immediately bricked up and the East Berlin members of the Congregation were permitted to meet in the church until the early eighties when it was decided to smarten up the ‘no mans land’ (in readiness for the 750th Celebrations in 1987 of the founding of Berlin) by removing the steel rail obstructions and creating a ‘cleaner’ vista from one sentry or patrol tower to the next. The church was progressively completely demolished.
After the Wall came down in November 1989 the Congregation was given its land back and it proceeded to design and build over the old footprint a new Reconciliation Church – what seemed to us to be an egg shaped structure (symbolising life?) with a high slatted outer Wall all around the outside. Outside the new Church they have mounted the Cross which had been at the top of the Church Tower and which had been hidden away in the cemetery until being returned in the nineties. Also mounted horizontally outside are three bells which we presume were saved from the demolished bell tower. In addition, the Congregation has established all around the new church a ‘field of rye’ to demonstrate that continual growth can be achieved even from the ‘death strip’ of the Wall. Very inspirational. To cap it off, the Congregation have installed a very moving Reconciliation statue close to the new building. It’s incredible to find a Congregation determined to achieve reconciliation and life after such devastation, death and destruction.
Further along are markers showing the line of some of the tunnels dug under the Wall. Some were dug east to west, but most were dug in the other direction by groups determined to enable friends and relatives to escape the DDR regime. And there are crosses marking the mass graves of soldiers killed in WWI which were not exhumed as the no-mans-land was constructed.
About a kilometre of the Wall has been laid out in the manner described, with a series of excellent information points with photos, descriptions, audio and videos to tell the story of the effect of the Wall on the lives of locals. Beyond that, houses have been constructed with street frontages where the Wall had been, but wherever possible the line of the two walls has been marked with a double-brick line in the ground and a less-cared for green strip has been maintained. There is no way that Berliners will grow up not knowing of the disasters of the 1961 to 1989 period which divided them. Extremely healthy, in our view.
On our way back home we walked our usual track from Wittenberg Platz down Ausbacher Strasse and stumbled across another pair of the bronze cobblestones marking the deportation and death of the occupants of the house. Are they related to Alan’s ANU PhD supervisor, Heinz Arndt? They will the his parents generation. So close to home!