Friday, November 12, 2010

Checkpoint Charlie and the Berlin Wall

Checkpoint Charlie is a huge museum of trivia and relics saved during the years of the wall. The museum itself is located with a view over the old wall into East Berlin and had its own share of escape stories.

There were various methods used to escape and many were on display here. The most exciting was the homemade balloon built by two men which they used to float the eight people in their families successfully over the border. The whole trip took about half an hour but it must have been a half hour they will never forget. They tried earlier and the balloon landed 200m short of the border. I guess they weren’t noticed because they got to try again with more success.

Many people hid in false trunks of cars. The Volkswagen trunk was especially interesting. It was so small! When people hid in trunks, the car would ride lower so there were all sorts of methods to combat that. Sometimes they would send heavy cars in before and after theirs so theirs wouldn’t look odd. Sometimes they had particular devices to counteract the weight.

People also swam across the border. Many died doing this, especially in the early days but some made it. One man developed an underwater apparatus that kind of pulled him along. It was so ingenious that there is a patent pending for the device. I think you may have already seen it as a water toy. You hold the handles on the sides of a rotary blade that pulls you around in the water.

Some people walked across the border in fake uniforms. They would smuggle in the correct fabric and accessories of the American soldiers and then sew uniforms. American soldiers weren’t allowed to return the salute of the Soviet soldiers so they had to know this information or their cover would be blown. Quite a number of people seemed to get away with this.

Most interesting to me was the large number of Soviet border guards who escaped. These are the people sent to STOP their countrymen from escaping and a great number of them escaped! Before the wall was put up, there was only barbed wire between the different sectors. Guards would jump the wire. Some would just walk across and hand over their guns. It was so bad that the Soviets had to move the walls and checkpoint gates further apart. One story that is quite famous shows a guard jumping the barbed wire. Earlier, two citizens had escaped and the soldiers had not shot at them. He was the superior officer in charge and feared reprisals so jumped the wire about an hour later. Imagine. Another famous picture shows a young Soviet guard on one side of the barbed wire and a child of maybe four on the other side. The father has just passed the child over the wire to the mother. The guard is looking around for direction as to what he should do. He was later “reassigned”, whatever that meant. I figure it couldn’t mean good things if the other guard jumped the wire to avoid this action.

Many people died trying to get across. They were shot or injured by the wall. Those stories were the most tragic. One boy lay dying for 50 minutes between the walls. The guards from either side wouldn’t go in to the death strip for fear of being shot at. The western guards tried throwing medic packs over to the boy but it was no good. Finally, the guards in the east came in and carried his body away. It caused huge anger on the western side with screaming accusations hurled across at the Soviet soldiers and demonstrations. Much later on, after so many guards had escaped, one guard sent out a plea to the western side saying that many guards are posted there not because they want to be but because they are forced. They are offered extra food, better housing conditions and other perks for shooting and stopping escapees but they choose not to out of compassion for their countrymen.

We visited the East Side Gallery on our last day in Berlin. The gallery is a section of wall about one mile long where artists from around the world are invited to paint. Every so often the wall is whitewashed over and a new round of artists descends to paint. I took lots of pictures because although the art wasn’t the best I’ve seen, it was interesting to see so many countries represented.
Germany, Canada,

Russia, Italy

USA, Portugal


maryanncart said...

Your write up was very interesting. And, of course, I appreciate the pictures of the volkswagon and their ability to do all kinds of things! Yesterday, Remembrance Day, I left the house at 7:30, got to Sumas at 9:00 a.m. and waited to get across the border until took me 5 minutes coming back. I think the dollar being on par had something to do with this. Ian is in Las Vegas for the next few days...back on Wednesday. He said he's at a health care conference! :-) We had neighbor Darrin and Ava (age 16 mos.) for dinner last night. They didn't taste that good. nono.. Thank heavens we ate in the kitchen. She warmed up after a while. It was a fun evening. Wendy Nixon said you will LOVE Prague. Do you?