The air routes were very important to defectors. The road & rail corridors were East German territory & subject to Stasi jurisdiction. If somehow managed to get over, under, or through the Berlin Wall taking you sure as Hell didn’t risk the Stasi stopping your train or pulling your car over.
I think it wasn’t so much facades with empty space behind them, as facades which were pastiches of elegant nineteenth-century architecture on hideous cheap mass concrete buildings, with stairwells that smell of urine.
Many of the hideous cheap mass concrete buildings have been replaced or refurbished. But no doubt there are some that haven’t.
I don’t know, but it was small. For example, they looked through our paperback books page by page and closely examined the seams of every piece of clothing.
When the passport guy asked “What was your reason for visiting the DDR?” and I said “Just looking around.” he immediately called over the super-searchers to escort us to a small room away from the main Customs area.
Could be. I am pulling at a very fuzzy memory that could well have been anticommunist nonsense.
That was similar to my experience, in November 88 (i.e., almost exactly a year before the whole thing collapsed). A cold and rainy Sunday morning, the museums open but not much else; outside the Konsum (nearest to a western-style department store) there was one of those display cabinets in the middle of the pavement, but where the equivalents all along the Kurfüstendamm in the west would be full of Rolex watches and the like, this solitary specimen had one pair of children’s rubber boots. The only cafeteria I could find must have been designed and decorated in the early 70s, and was looking the worse for wear. You got served through a little hole in the wall, and all they could offer was a burger (which in DDR-speak was a “galetta”) on a bun with some tomato relish dolloped from a chipped enamel bowl and beer in cloudy glasses. BUT the meat, bread and tomatoes tasted of proper beef, bread and tomatoes, instead of salt and additives, and the beer was good (as everywhere in Germany).
Speaking of air routes, here’s a true story of escaping east Germany in a balloon.
When I first started airlining in the late 1980s my carrier was one of the US carriers with West Berlin authority. We flew between Berlin & IIRC Frankfurt. I never had the chance to do it myself personally, but I did get the training & reference materials for the operation.
There were three air corridors connecting West Berlin to the bulk of West Germany. One to the northwest led to Hamburg. One to the west led to Hannover. And one to the southwest led to Frankfurt. The air corridors were very narrow and squirting out the side would result in interception and, depending on the diplomatic tone that week, a decent chance of getting shot at, or at least being forced to land in the DDR & be interned. They routinely flew through weather that would be diverted around in any sane part of the planet. [Aside: the same stupidity exists today in China.]
Within West Berlin the airport (Tempelhof, now closed) was very small for the airplanes involved. Like Chicago Midway, but worse. There was very little maneuvering room inside the tiny bubble of free airspace over the city. Approaches and departures were shaped more like coiled springs than the usual *straight in and land *or straight out and away departures at ordinary fields.
And all this was done in the pre-GPS & pre-computer days. Flying perfectly on track no matter the malfunction and no matter the weather was a very big deal.
The job arrangements were a one-month temporary but renewable posting to Frankfurt and then you’d fly two round trips to/from Berlin per day for about 12 of the 30 days. Then you’d have the other 18 days off in Frankfurt on an all-expenses-paid basis. Needless to say it was very popular duty with folks who had weak or non-existent families back in the US. We had German nationals who lived there full time as flight attendants. Rumor had it that some of them rather liked the never ending rotation of young effectively-single pilots.
The MacDonalds at check point Charlie has only been there since 2010, long after re-unification, and not everyone is happy about it:
I took a picture of CPC with McDonalds as the background. It was a bit shocking.
I took the oath to join the Canadian Forces Reserve on November 2nd. The Berlin Wall came down on November 9th.
To be fair, and I don’t want to be, there are plenty of hideous cheap mass concrete buildings with stairwells that smell of urine in America and Britain, just without the elegant nineteenth-century facades.
Been a while since last in Berlin. Quite a strange city, surprisingly cool. I went around 2003 and enjoyed the electronic music, some touching historical tours, pleasant parks and amazingly expensive upscale stores (too rich for my blood).
With most of the wall long gone, a few gates and Checkpoint Charlie remained. The East had cooler traffic signs but I understand the “walking man signal” is now gone. I was moved to tears by the Jewish Museum as were many Germans. Having features which look Jewish, I was pleasantly surprised by excessive courtesy I received – bumped up travel tickets, attention from some very attractive fraulein (I always appreciated how direct German women are, you aren’t left guessing how they feel about things)… And good music. I went with a college buddy and we had a fantastic time though German food can be heavy.
I can honestly say, “not like that.” There are not many, if any, buildings in any free country quite like the DDR’s. Even the best structures tended to be absurdly overdone, as some kind of weird compensation, but necessarily more comfortable. Certainly, not everything was badly-done or ugly, but projecting power and authority was far more important to the DDR regime than comfort or common sense. So stuff tended to be done too big and had no conveniences.
That said, I would argue they have a better shelf life than many of the ego projects designed around abstract architectural principles in the post-war west.
Berlin was occupied territory and the sole legal authorities were the four occupying powers: the US, the UK, the USSR and France. This was a left-over from the unconditional surrender at the end of the war. There were the four sectors of Berlin, but the city overall was under the military sovereignty of the four occupiers.
The occupying powers delegated governmental powers to local municipal governments, but East Berlin and West Berlin were not recognised internationally as being part of either West Germany or East Germany, even though East Berlin served as the capital of East Germany.
West Berlin served as the capital of West Germany too, though in a purely symbolic sense; Bonn was the seat of the West German government.
An interesting point I recall reading was that people who lived in West Berlin at the time were exempt from the West German draft. So a lot of counter-culture types migrated to there and that explained its very lively and artsy atmosphere.
PJ O’Rourke once said that, when you crossed Checkpoint Charlie into East Berlin, the film of your life switched to black and white.
For an interesting read on the weird legal situation of Berlin prior to unification, read “Judgment in Berlin” by a US judge named Stern. It was about a skyjacking from Poland to West Berlin by some East Berliners. Since Tempelhof Airport where the hijacked plane landed was in the US sector, the US set up a court to try the accused’s skyjackers. Some legal stuff in it, but a good read. (Martin Sheen played the judge in the movie, and Sean Penn played one of the witnesses to the hijacking. Wojo (Max Gail) was also in it - I think he was a prosecutor.)
Nope! Ampelmannchen is very much alive and well, and found throughout the city!