This blog describes my day trip to the East German State.
It's from my book;
My Little Book of Berlin 2017
Edited by Karl French of the Literary Consultancy in London.
2.5 Day Trip to East Berlin on the second of June 1988.
On the second of June 1988 my mother and I boarded a Severin and Kühn tour bus for a standard tour of East Berlin city centre, what was then the Russian Sector of Berlin. I ran upstairs on the bus whilst mum was supposed to be doing the passports. This proved dangerous as they didn’t realise that I was there and mum very nearly didn’t register me downstairs as having been on the tour. Everyone was supposed to do this before we went over the border at the infamous Checkpoint Charlie so I very nearly didn’t return for another eighteen months until the wall came down.
Allied Checkpoint Charlie and me!
There were three stops on the standard tour - Mitte, Unter den Linden and the Pergamon Museum - the Russian war memorial and a communist café that took Deutsche Marks and not the currency of the DDR (Ostmarks). This café was situated on the eastern side of the Havel lake. I wasn’t supposed to take photos - in fact we were explicitly told not to, but I’m glad I did anyway. I got a superb shot of the eastern side of the Berlin Wall, the Brandenburg Gate and border guards.
There was also a fine shot of communist pre- revolutionary Alexanderplatz, with its clean lines and street furniture.
Palast der Republik
Mum also got a great shot of what was to become the scene of one of the key protests in the East German revolution of 1989, the rear of the East German Parliament building, the Palast der Republik. The East German Parliament building had a communist hammer and sickle emblem on the front, and was obviously a concrete block of Russian design with tinted windows. They could see you and you couldn’t see them.
In the 1989 revolution, people gathered on the grass bank opposite the Palast der Republik to heckle Honecker and Gorbachev who were inside celebrating forty years of the DDR. Famously the Stasi appeared from defensive tunnels near the bridge at the top of the picture and clubbed the protestors over the head to stop them storming parliament. By this stage, communism in Germany was failing and what you saw in the window was everything there was in the store. I remember there being nothing whatsoever for sale on the shelves and in stock. We then went around the Pergamon Museum which was on the Karl Marx Platz (now called Friedrichsplatz) in Mitte.
The Pergamon museum contains the Greek Pergamon and the gates to the hanging gardens of Babylon.
When we came out of the museum I remember seeing that virtually every car was a Trabant.
Trabants (or Trabbis as they were affectionately known) were a make of car in East Germany, in fact one of only two makes within the country. Everyone who could be supplied with one had one, but the waiting list was longer than a giant’s arm so you had to be quite influential to jump the queue if you wanted one. In East Germany people very often had money but they couldn’t spend their money to get products or materials for their households because the supply was so poor. Communist philosophy did put an emphasis on them having love and respect for one another however. This is another shot of the Trabbis. This time, they all lined up together at the traffic lights outside the cathedral.
We then travelled to the outskirts of East Berlin to the Russian War Memorial and Cemetery.
The Russians liked to show this off to westerners as they built it out of all the red marble left over from Hitler’s Reichskanzlei. I took a shot there with some very dodgy- looking Bond villain types in the foreground who were either Stasi or KGB. As you can see, there were also a lot of concrete paving blocks everywhere like they still have in Stalinist Pyongyang in North Korea.
Moving on, this is an interesting café on the Havel lake that took western currency.
It was on two tiers; all the communist hierarchy were allowed to sit down by the water next to the barbeques and heaters. We, as westerners were only allowed to sit on a raised platform in the centre of the restaurant overlooking everyone else but well away from them. I’d never experienced that sense of being confined and made a fuss of in the same way. When I went to the loo, I felt a strange beckoning energy from one of the tables down by the water as if they really wanted me to go and talk with them. Mum grabbed my hand and gave me a stern talking to, one of the sternest I’d ever had. The couple by the water had children and from then on it was my great ambition to play with children on the other side of the wall and to have the “little sister” from the other side of the Iron Curtain that my parents never provided me with. This was an ambition I later fulfilled when I went out with my friend an opera singer from Leipzig. That concludes my first and only visit to the East German state that I can remember properly. The border remained closed for another year.