All Things Wireless & Letterpress

All Things Wireless & Letterpress

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Mission Accomplished: Installment Nr. 3

Die Mauer (the Wall), and a Sidebar History of Berlin.

Berlin has a tragic past, mostly owing to it being capital of not one, but several countries that tended to have unhappy histories.  To be sure, it had it's bright times.  But so the modern, post 1500's European history goes, so went Berlin.  Berlin was at one point a self governing free city on one side of the Spree.  Later it became the patron city of Dukes, Herzogs, and other local rulers.  It became the capital of Prussia.  It saw the enlightened despotism of Fredrick the Great (Onkel Fritz).  

It endured the occupation of Napoleon in the second decade of the 19th century.  It became the capital of the North German Union (Norddeutsche Bund, NDB) in 1868.  It became the Capital of a United Germany, the Deutsches Reich under today's tricolour in 1871, having absorbed the buffer Rheinland states after defeating France in the Franco-Prussian War (my great granddad fought under Bismark in that war.)  - plus signing an agreement with King Ludwig II of Bavaria, admitting that ancient Germanic country into the Union, yet retaining it's royal Family, self rule, and maintaining it's own army, currency, postal system, parliament and banners.  

Germany, and by extension the Capital Berlin, suffered huge losses during the First World War, singularly being held responsible for reparations incurred by all sides of that war, having it's iron, coal, and mineral regions stripped from her, having her army stripped from her, having had all powered aircraft banned from her by the League of Nations, and having a food blockade surrounding her ports until 1921, a full three years after Armistice, creating a deperate food shortage.  Berlin crumbled under the devastated economy, the Red Wave that suddenly overwhelmed the country, very nearly pushing it into the Red Soviet Bloc, her currency worse than worthless, a democratic post war government formed at Weimar, convening in Berlin, with almost no power to finance reconstruction because of the overwhelming war debt, factions tearing the whole societal order to pieces, being reduced to the barter system. We lost all our money at that time.  (Good thing my grandfather was playing in one of Germany's first popular Jazz Band, "Capella Malzheimer", house band of Karlsruhe's Hotel Germania.  But that's another story.)

Then - the stock market crash, further forcing a devastated post war Germany to seek drastic measures for survival, creating the spawning ground for Nationalist Radicals such as the National Socialist Party and the German Workers' Party (which came together as the NSDAP, the Nazis) to win over an impoverished nation with promises of a return to the Glory of Germania, a "Thousand Year Reich". 

"Schlacht bei Tannenberg", WW1, my grandfather was awarded the Iron Cross here.

Then within twenty years another devastating war.  A Jewish genocide. A Holocaust. Another wholesale defeat, another complete disintegration of an economy, a societal and governmental breakdown, another complete loss of everything, all within a couple generations.  Another occupation by foreigners.  Defeat at the hands of the Soviets who exercised violent retaliation against the citizens of Berlin, most of whom were women and children.  My mother saw as the Soviets rushed to Hindenburg's tomb, where his body lie enbalmed, cutting off his head, mounting it on a pole and marching it through the streets of Berlin (as if Hindenburg, who died in 1934, really cared.  The citizens thought it was a rather bizarre thing to do.)

Then came the partitioning of Germany, and the partitioning of Berlin itself into French, British, American, and Soviet zones.   Since Eisenhower agreed to let Russia take Berlin, the USSR was given a full half of Berlin to occupy.  This mirrored the rest of Germany, where a full half of Germany Itself became a Soviet Zone, while the Western half divided between the French, British and American.  I lived there during the latter half of the  occupation.  My father worked for MI as an agent handler.  His field of operation: Berlin, mostly.

But the pressure on Berlin did not end there.  With West Berlin now finding itself an island of democracy in the middle of a Soviet Block Country, the DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republick, the German Democratic Republic, fondly referred to as "East Germany"), the USSR backed satellite regime of East Germany, decided to close down all canal access, Autobahn, Rail and Air corridors into West Berlin in 1948, in an effort to lay a modern day siege to her citizens, forcing her capitulation to Soviet Control.  In short, they tried to starve West Berlin  into submission. For what reason?  

West Berlin used the West German Deutschmark!  It had greater purchasing power, and had greater stability.  The German DM helped to bolster a successful and growing West Berlin Economy, and that Deutschmark was recognised by banks the world over.  If they were forced to use the East German Mark, that would place West Berlin's economy in the hands of the DDR, effectively "easternizing" West Berlin for all intents and purposes.  It would literally kill the economic prosperity of West Berlin.  The DDR would lift the siege if the western Allied Nations withdrew the West German Deutschmark from West Berlin.  

 Berlin Air Lift, 1948: C-47 at Templehoff, from my private family photos.

 Berlin Air Lift, 1948: French Nord Atlas, from my private family photos.

This led to what is now known as the Berlin Air Lift, with Douglas Skymasters and big DC-47's risking soviet fighters to fly narrow air corridors into Templehof Air Port with provisions for the rescue of West Berlin!  Finally, after almost a year of siege, the DDR Soviets relented.  The photos above were taken by my Onkel Kurt, Luftwaffe, who joined the Reichsluftwaffe during the War, after the war was re-admitted into the Bundesrepublik's newly reconstituted NATO backed Luftwaffe at his original rank at the time of capture.  He retired in 1971, after 26 years total service.

Special surcharge of 2pf. to get mail into and out of Berlin during the Air Lift.

Oh, but it doesn't end there.  In 1961, without warning, Volkspolizei (VOPOs) closed all throughway between East and West Berlin.  Nobody was allowed in or out of East Berlin.  Overnight, layers and layers of razor and barbed wire pulled along the shores of the Spree, across Unter Den Linden, driving a wedge of separation between the East Occupation Zone of Berlin and the rest of Berlin, which is where we get the name West Berlin, actually.  You see, before the wall, while the Soviets did occupy the eastern half of Berlin, travel was permitted, just as it was between the American and British sectors or the British and French occupation zones.  The wall actually sealed the two halves of Berlin off from each other completely.  The Western Allied occupation zones of Berlin were already sealed off by the DDR at the city's western, southern and northern boundaries. Now it was further split in half.  It went up so quickly that families caught on one side or the other were stranded, unable to get back home, to family, to schools, to jobs.  VOPOs shot at anyone attempting to cross the layered barriers.  The outermost layers of the wall were masonry, built under arms, the workers guarded by armed VOPOs.

The wall finally came down, as all of the DDR dismantled in 1989, after forty-four years of Soviet occupation, and a completely redirected economy and society.  A full generation and a half.  

And through it all, Berlin remains Berlin.  She knows what it's like to have everything destroyed, families separated, killed, oppressive governments, foreign occupation, murder, genocide, dictators, &c.  While the generation alive today may have not personally experienced such, I believe it still resides in the social consciousness of Berlin.  I think that Angela Merkel, daughter of an East German pastor, has a sensitivity in this area.  Maybe this is why there has not been mass resistance to the recent refugee waves.  Perhaps it may be recognised that it was not too far back.... my parent's generation.... when we, too, lost everything and had to hit the road with everything we had in one "Koffer", and walk for days and weeks, dodging bombs, aerial strafing and experiencing the backs of those who could have helped, but did not. 

Today, the wall no longer cuts Berlin into halves.  Today you can pass under the Brandenburger Tor, and stroll down Unter Den Linden any time you wish.  My mother used to live in Gesundbrunnen, in a section once known as "End 20".  She has some pretty cool stories about living there in the early 1940s.  During this recent mission to Berlin I was able to revisit where I once stood fifty years ago, as a child of twelve.  It was interesting, but to spice things up even more, Tropical Storm Xavier hit right as we passed under the Tor, with seventy-plus mph winds at 49 degrees Fahrenheit!  Yow!  Here are some photos I managed to squeeze off during this visit:


The Brandenburger Tor.  What does it commemorate?  Well . . .  actually, it originally was built to mark the end of Unter Den Linden, the "Ost-West Axel", or the main East-West thoroughfare which terminates at the Victory Angel, the "Siegessäule", which actually does commemorate something. I think it's the victory over France, 1871.  But alas, we could not visit it because Xavier hit!!

 Passing under the Tor - something I never dreamed I would ever do - sent a chill down my spine.  My last memory of this gate was what you see in the top photo, you could not even get close to the Tor, for the VOPO guards and military security presences, the Barbed Wire, the concrete "maze" which the checked-through traffic had to negotiate, the VOPOs sliding mirrors under the busses to make sure nobody was clinging to the undercarriages in efforts to escape.  Now, here I was, walking under the Tor, just as if there was never a wall.  Wow.  That's all I can say.

Ok, so we walk around where the wall once stood, where the houses that once butted up near the wall  zone had murials painted on them depicting escapes caught on footage in newsreels, then suddenly: 

Boom!  I think Juan's face says it all!  I was wearing a woolen sock hat, which peeled off  my head like invisible fingers rolled it off, and blew it at seventy mph across a lawn area!  Thanks, Chris, for diving after that hat!  Man, it was below fifty degrees!

We were all pretty much caught by surprise!  Folks on the sidewalks were looking around themselves with a "WTH??" look, and these two folks in the middle of the street we going lickety split to get out of there.  Somehow that crane in the background stayed up!  But large metal signage was torn off the tall buildings and came crashing down to the street, one very nearly hitting Bette, one of our team members!  

Yeah, just try to hold that camera still, Mate!  We actually had no idea this was Tropical Storm (later named "Orkan") Xavier, neither did we know such a storm was even in existence!  In one thousand years of Berlin History, this was the first such storm to ever hit Berlin!  And we were there just in time for a ringside seat!

This was a common sight.  Had these bikes not been chained, they would have gone airborne!  Xavier took out all surface transit systems, forcing us to use the U-Bahn system which was not meant to carry the crowd that poured into the underground stations!

If this gives you an idea, the rows were six to seven persons deep.  That station normally sees maybe a two persons deep crowd at the worst.  It was an insane scene, and each train that pulled up was equally stuffed with people.  We managed to negotiate by taking a train the opposite direction, getting off at a station that didn't have as many folks, and then taking a return U-Bahn to our destination.  It was still overstuffed, but we got aboard!

One of the buildings with the murals.  This was a famous image, a VOPO, caught on film by a National Geographic Photographer who just happened to be filming the wall construction.  This VOPO looked this way, then that way, then slinging off his firearm, he skipped and hopped over the barriers (they were low, still being constructed - he knew he had only that moment to take advantage of the situation!)  

Ross and Juan pose by a wall remnant.  This was taken only seconds before the wind hit.  It was a bizarre day, to say the least.  I found out it was actually a named tropical storm the next morning!

We sheltered in at the Wall Memorial Museum.  This was part of a video showing a boy... my age at the time I was there... watching the VOPOs guarding the wall construction crews as they slowly wall off his world.  Right after this I was told by an attendant that photography was verboten because all these images are copyrighted.  All the while everybody in the room was taking photos.  Go figure.

Another all too familiar image.  An East Berlin mom is passing her baby over to a West Berlin relative, probably an aunt, so that her child might have a shot of growing up in the west, and not under a Communist Socialist State.  I have these images burned into my mind, and they surface here in the States when I hear folks talking up Socialism.  Yeah.  It's so wonderful they had to build a wall to keep folks from escaping the wonderfulness.

 The Point.

What was the point of this Installment, and why is it included in "Mission Accomplished"?   Maybe it's because I felt a need to explain why I have such a connect with Berlin and Germany.  But more:

As we toured the Kaiser Wilhelms Memorial Church in Berlin,  Pastor Juan remarked his amazement of what Berlin, and indeed what the whole of Germany has gone through, in particularly the past century.  He had no idea!  And indeed, most folks in the West today do not.  To get a true glimpse, even a fleeting one, of any people, we must know something about where they have been to know where they are now.  It is true with the Refugees, and it is also true of  Berliners, and indeed, Germany itself.

You can check out everything I've narrated against your own sources, I may be a little off on details.  A lot of what I know comes handed down from generation to generation in my family.   What I have attempted is to build a larger impression.  

Berlin is an amazing city.  Berliners are an amazing people.  Pray for a great awakening of these people to the truth of the Word that Dr. Martinus Luther strove so heavily for, 500 years ago!

*   *   *   *   *   *   

Well, that's it for this installment.  A little history narrative, I hope it was beneficial, and may provide some insight.  Obviously there will be more installments!

Stay tuned. 

Click here for next installment.


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