A City Divided

Imagine our surprise this morning when we headed to our favourite Underground Subway Station to find that the gates were locked. We then walked to the first tram station down the street and as we were beginning to suspect, there was no public transportation today due to a work stoppage. So, the day we had planned was much too far away to walk so we had to improvise. I remembered that on one of our trips downtown I had seen a Berlin Wall Memorial. It was on my list but hadn’t made it into the schedule yet. So, guess what? It was now scheduled for today as it was within walking distance.

I won’t bore you with a bunch more details about the Wall and all the politics about it etc. etc. etc. What we saw today was actually a portion of the wall that ran along one of the main streets – Bernauer Strasse. The houses along one side of the street belonged to the East side. However, the sidewalks that ran along the front of the houses belonged to the West side. This resulted in a lot of people walking out of their front doors and jumping out of front windows to get to the west side as the wall started to come up in 1961. To combat this problem, the GDR (German Democratic Republic) and border security bricked up the doors and windows facing the street and put barbed wire on the roof so that there could be no more escaping from the east this way. Eastern Berliners became quite inventive and started to dig tunnels under the wall. Many escaped through these tunnels until they were caught and imprisoned or shot. Others tried to escape through subway tunnels but as I mentioned in an earlier post, after there had been a few escapes, the tunnels were either guarded and the train went straight through the “ghost stations” or the tunnels were bricked up as well.

The open air Berlin Wall Memorial museum documents the lives of families that lived on this street and became divided by the wall. Though East and West had been divided for about twelve years before the wall, movement back and forth was fairly easy with a pass. Even though rumours of a physical wall had started circulating in 1961, there were many that did not think much would change. As a result, family members did not make it out before the borders were completely closed and the wall became a physical barrier that could not be penetrated. There are pictures of families waving to each other across the barriers and even of a wedding taking place on the front street in the west so that the family in the east could see the bride and groom.

Many people lost their families. Many people lost their lives. We cannot even imagine. So many wasted lives. So many wasted years. So many wasted resources.

Olga Segler

Two thousand people were to be moved out of their apartments, most of them against their will. The West Berlin police and fire department expected that many residents “would in the last minute try to flee to freedom before their apartments are evacuated.  Olga Segler (80 years old) decided to jump from the window of her second story apartment on September 25, 1961. Her daughter waited down below on the sidewalk, encouraging her to jump. The firemen caught the eighty-year-old woman in their rescue net but she injured her back on impact and had to be taken by ambulance to the nearby Lazarus Hospital. Olga Segler died the next day.   Her heart had given out as a consequence of the overexcitement she experienced during the escape.  The picture of the plaque in the sidewalk shows the spot where she jumped.

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The bars on the ground show the location of one of the many escape tunnels.

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The Reconciliation Sculpture.  There are also copies in the Coventry Cathedral in England along with one in the Hiroshima Peace Museum.

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