For Veteran’s Day…A Bit Of History And A Tribute

wall-and-gis
American GIs look over the hastily put up Wall

My husband joined the Air Force when he was seventeen. After training he was assigned to the Air Force Security Service and posted to Berlin six months after the Wall went up in 1962 (and if I tell you any more I’ll have to kill you). At first he worked at Templehof, the obscenely-scaled airport designed by Albert Speer. The building was wired with high explosives. If, as the saying went at the time, the flag went up, meaning the Soviets had invaded, then they had less than 30 minutes to destroy what needed to be destroyed and get out. They didn’t actually expect to survive. Later he was at the Marienfelde Operations Site at the southern edge of the city. He served his hitch and came back in one piece.

While he was there he had time to wander about West Berlin, sometimes taking photos. He’s given me permission to share some, which I appreciate since it gives me a chance to honor his service to our country. He has an enlargement of the one at the top in his office. I call it “the Life magazine cover shot”.

The wall went up very fast and sloppy at first, which is what you see in the photos, and was later replaced with the taller, permanent one (so the Russians thought at the time) that we brought home pieces of when we were in Berlin two months after reunification in 1990 (we got together in 1983). He got to see all the familiar sights fr0m his time there and I saw them for the first time. Checkpoint Charlie was gone and there was already a United Colors of Benneton store on the corner on the east side. We drove south of the city and David saw Berlin from that direction for the first time. I did a blog post about that trip with photos I took. You can read it here.

But here’s what it was like in 1962 (photos were scanned but were not processed or retouched):

wall-and-trees
The Wall cut right across the city
tribute-flowers
Tributes for those who died trying to cross to freedom
sign
Berlin was a divided city. There were American, French and British sectors on the western side. The east was part of the Orwellian-named German Democratic Republic
trees-and-wall3
View into East Berlin. Bombed out building on the right, unrepaired since the end of WWII
american-sector
The Brandenburg Gate

Berlin In December, 1990 (Two Months After Reunification)

Entering Berlin on the east-west autobahn.
Entering Berlin on the autobahn.

A few days ago it was the 25th Anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Like millions of people around the world back then, we were glued to the tv watching something we never thought would happen in our lifetime and then it seemed, in an eyeblink, it was gone, along with the Soviet Union.

I’ll always be kind of sorry that we didn’t whip out the credit card and hop a plane to go and be part of it. But in December of 1990, two months after Unification, we did travel to Germany for a business trip my husband had in Wiesbaden. Afterwards we got a rental car and headed east. That part of the trip is a story for another post, but we simply crossed the old border via a country road into the now-defunct East Germany and drove to Berlin. What follows is an album of photos I took on the day we explored the area around where the Wall had been. I thought it would be good not to just let these photos of an historic time sit in a photo album, but get them out there as one eyewitness record of a moment in time. They were taken with a Nikon N2000 film camera and the 4×6″ prints scanned on an Epson scanner into Photoshop. I only did a minimum of adjustments, preferring to leave them as I took them as much as possible.

Our first stop was the Brandenburg Gate, which was undergoing repairs and restoration.
Our first stop was the Brandenburg Gate, which was undergoing repairs and restoration and was blocked off.
Nearby was a piece of the Wall and a burned-out Trabant car.
Nearby was a piece of the Wall and a burned-out Trabant car. There were many of these scattered around the city and alongside the roads, mostly orange or lime green. A popular joke about this much-hated vehicle was “How do you double the value of a Trabbi? Fill it with gas.”
One of the first things
One of the first things we noticed were the vendors set up all around the Gate. They were selling well, just about everything moveable that had been connected to East Germany….uniforms, currency, official documents, ID papers, medals. And also pieces of the Wall, some big chunks just piled on the ground and some mounted in little plastic souvenir boxes.
The scene around the Brandenburg Gate.
The scene around the Brandenburg Gate.
Vendor
One of the vendors. They all seemed to be from Eastern Europe, speaking languages like Bulgarian, not German.
Pieces of the Wall
Pieces of the Wall in the little plastic display boxes. We have a couple, but they’re packed away somewhere at the moment.
A section of the Wall
A section of the Wall with one of the holes people punched in it with whatever they could find.
The site of Gestapo headquarters.
The site of Gestapo headquarters.
Another view of the site of  Gestapo headquarters, which had been leveled.
Another view of the site of Gestapo headquarters, which had been leveled.
A sign at the site showing the building that had been there. So much evil, pain and terror occurred in that place.
A sign at the site showing the building that had been there. So much evil, pain and terror occurred in that place, but it’s gone forever now.
Colorful Wall section.
Colorful Wall section.
A long stretch of the Wall. Walking along it was a somewhat surreal experience.
A long stretch of the Wall. Walking along it was a somewhat surreal experience.
We sure weren't the first Americans there, not by a long shot.
We sure weren’t the first Americans there, not by a long shot.
Since it was December, someone left a holiday message.
Since it was December, someone left a holiday message.
We talked it over and decided, what the heck,, we'd add our names. All we had was a pen, but we managed.
We talked it over and decided, what the heck,, we’d add our names. All we had was a pen, but we managed.
Me writing on the Wall.
Me writing on the Wall.
Mu husband, David, writing on the Wall.
My husband, David, writing on the Wall.
Street scene
Street scene.
Street scene.
Street scene.
Checkpoint Charlie had been turned into a temporary souvenir shop.
Checkpoint Charlie had been turned into a temporary souvenir shop.
Street scene.
Street scene with the Reichstag in the background.
Impromptu street cafe with the Brandenburg Gate in the background.
Impromptu street cafe with the Brandenburg Gate in the background.
The Reichstag (German parliament building)
The Reichstag (German parliament building)
Corner of the Reichstag showing patched bullet and artilliary shell holes from WW2.
Corner of the Reichstag showing patched bullet and artillary shell holes from WWII.
Memorial between the Reichstag and the river for those who died trying to get to freedom there.
Memorial between the Reichstag and the river for those who died trying to get to freedom over the Wall there.
The Reichstag after the end of the War.
The Reichstag after the end of the War.
The Reichstag during a return trip to Berlin in October, 2004.
The Reichstag during a return trip to Berlin in October, 2004.
I couldn't resist grabbing a quick shot of this beautiful woman in her fur coat and hat. I got a stream of quite angry Russian in return, along the lines of "It's really rude to take photos of people!" (my husband knew enough Russian to translate). Of course in the old Soviet bloc no one was used having their picture taken casually in a public place, so I couldn't blame her for being upset. I apologized and we went on our way. Quickly. But I'm really glad I got the shot. I hope she has lived a good and happy life.
I couldn’t resist grabbing a quick shot of this beautiful woman in her fur coat and hat. I got a stream of quite angry Russian in return, along the lines of “It’s really rude to take photos of people!” (my husband knew enough Russian to translate). Of course in the old Soviet bloc no one was used having their picture taken casually in a public place, so I couldn’t blame her for being upset. I apologized and we went on our way. Quickly. But I’m really glad I got the shot. I hope she has lived a good and happy life.
More street vendors.
More street vendors.
Street vendor with the Brandenburg Gate in the background.
Street vendor with the Brandenburg Gate in the background.
Brandenburg Gate
Brandenburg Gate, December 1990 with vendors selling East German military uniforms.
The Brandenburg Gate on a return trip to Berlin in October 2004.
The Brandenburg Gate on our return trip to Berlin in October 2004.
Our piece of the Berlin Wall. It's about 10" wide.
Our piece of the Berlin Wall. It’s about 10″ wide. I had to dig through a few piles to find this colorful piece.