Berlin 1976

"This is a picture I took in Berlin in the mid 1970's of the Todesstreifen (Death zone). The Wall wasn't actually just a wall, but more like a little DMZ comprised two walls sandwiching guardhouses, obstacles, an area planted with mines and a small asphalt road to patrol by car."

Gertrude Meyer

This picture was evidently taken from an upper story window of a building in West Berlin. This is a reminder of another sad time in world history, when people under the control of Communist Russia were kept prisoners so they couldn't flee their rule. Gertrude Meyer is a second-generation American of German immigrant parents. She spent some time in the homeland of her parents, in the 1970s, during some of the cold war years following WWII. She continues with her recollections of those times in Germany...

It definately was a hostile environment to drive from West Berlin to West Germany via the transit road in East Germany. The borders were a nightmare. However it was important to use the transit road and pass thru the borders. The Four Powers Treaty is what the West Germans called the treaty made between Russia, France, England and the US. It allowed for transit thru East Germany to West Berlin. By using the transit road and crossing the borders, travellers were in effect demanding that the East Germans (controlled by the Russians in this Cold War era) abide by the treaty.

Of course they made us wait in line for hours at the border. Would spend half an hour checking our passports, all the while giving us dirty looks through windows. Would inspect the car: mirrors underneath, poking sticks into the gas tank etc. On one occasion they actually took all luggage out of the car and then proceeded to take out the seats. (They were looking for contraband, smuggled East German citizens etc.)

  • Magazines and books were not permitted and would be confiscated.
  • You were not allowed to stop by the roadside. There was one restaurant and one gas station you were permitted to stop at.
  • Conversations with citizens of East Germany were prohibited, except for those serving us in the restaurant.
  • The speed limit was strictly enforced.
And all the houses and towns looked so dreary and sad and poor. Actually compared to the rest of the country, these houses looked good by their standards. This was the good face they were showing the West. The store windows had tons of canned goods and other items in them. We found out that they were empty. Just put there to show us that they had everything. Which we knew all along they didn't have. It was an experience.

The Wall didn't exist immediately following WWII. There was a porous border so to speak. The policital and economic conditions were terrible after the War, but in the sectors controlled by France, Britain and USA there was rapid improvement. The German constitution was loosely structed using the US constitution as a model. Economic buildup was strong, helped greatly by our investment in the country. The Russian Sector, a/k/a East Germany lagged behind. So many Germans living in East Berlin worked in West Berlin. One morning in the early 1960's they woke up to find the border between East and West Berlin was no longer porous. The soldiers hastily erected a border, which was then rapidly replaced by big concrete walls, topped by barb wire, eventually mine fields were planted, obstacles and watch towers were built, patrols with dogs drove the narrow paved street, East German border guards had orders shoot to kill.

This led to decades of attempted escapes. Only relatively few survived. The East Germans tried to get out by being smuggled out in secret compartments in specially modified cars, tried to build a mini-submarine to excape via the river, tried to swim the river, tried to rappell over the Todesstreifen from taller buildings in East and West, many built long long tunnels and escaped that way. But many were caught or executed in the process.

France, Britain and USA turned over sovereignty to the Germans relatively soon after they were able to govern themselves. The Russians held onto control until the early 1990s, when the Berlin Wall fell. Why did the Russians hold on (so long)?
  1. Revenge for the German military actions against them in WWII.
  2. Keeping East Germany as a buffer between Russia and the West.
    (I suspect they were as afraid of us as we were of them.)
  3. Harnessing the labor in East Germany and taking freely of natural resources.
The East Germans were working and producing goods (not up to our standards, but goods were being produced nontheless), but most were being shipped off to Russia. Agriculture used to flourish in East Germany before WWII. Communism removed the incentive to produce bumper crops, or raise more livestock, since the family/farmer was allowed to keep a minimum and the rest went to the state. (Logic: so why work and produce more for no reward)