• Germany's news in English

Village remembers Iron Curtain coming down

The Local · 11 Aug 2011, 11:18

Published: 11 Aug 2011 11:18 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Due to quirks of geography and a tumultuous history, the horseshoe-shaped suburban area of 500 inhabitants was nearly surrounded by a wealthy part of West Berlin while it officially remained part of Potsdam in East Germany.

Residents of Klein Glienicke and their Western neighbours lived so close that they could look into each others' bedroom windows. But even a friendly wave was verboten, with the East Germans facing immediate expulsion from the idyllic district if caught in contact with the "enemy."

This proximity made it possible for dozens to flee - exactly what the authorities hoped to stop by building the Wall - and led to a decades-long crackdown that saw many of the original inhabitants swapped for true believers.

A quiet community of stately old Prussian houses, Klein Glienicke became a "special security zone" where streets never fell dark because of prison-style spotlights at the Wall that blazed through the night.

Life-long resident Gitta Heinrich watched the Wall go up and celebrated its fall - on her birthday, no less - in the picture postcard village on the Teltow Canal separating Berlin from Potsdam.

A far cry from normal small-town life, Heinrich recalls wild escapes, a shoot-out at the Wall and even a failed bomb attack against an East German officer.

"It was like living in a big jail," said Heinrich, now 69. "It was the smallest town (in East Germany) that was walled in in this way. You could not walk anywhere without bumping up against it."

She vividly remembers the sudden sealing of the border on August 13, 1961.

"We were so shocked - the bridge was closed off, I couldn't get into town without my ID and my boyfriend couldn't enter at all," she said. "At that point it was just a fence. It was worse when they built the concrete walls in 1965."

A playground for the rich and famous in the 1920s that attracted film stars from the nearby Babelsberg Studios where Marlene Dietrich launched her career, Klein Glienicke with the Wall quickly became a Cold War curiosity.

Today, there is little trace of the Wall but for the 50th anniversary, an exhibition at a nearby castle tells the remarkable story.

Curator Jens Arndt moved to Klein Glienicke from western Berlin 12 years ago. He said that before 1989, when the Wall fell, Westerners had little idea of what the mysterious town behind it was like.

"It was a tiny enclave embedded among 'the enemies of the people'," he said, referring to the capitalists on the Western side. "East German soldiers said it was the most difficult part of East Berlin to secure."

The centrepiece of the exhibition is a model of the town built by the army to plan patrols and plot strategy to secure vulnerable sections of the Wall. They had plenty of cause for concern. Handymen and ambulance drivers often used the occasion of a job in Klein Glienicke to flee.

In 1968, a would-be refugee and an East German border guard with his own dreams of escaping, aged just 21 and 26, were both killed in a tragic shoot-out.

And in 1973, two families fled to the West via a 19-metre-long tunnel they dug from their basement using a child's toy shovel so as not to arouse suspicion. That spectacular breakout led to regular cellar checks to prevent any similar attempts.

Heartbreaking photographs in the exhibition document a funeral in 1962. A family, owners of the local butcher's shop, had fled Klein Glienicke for West Berlin in the 1950s but the clan's beloved grandmother stayed on.

When she died, the family was not allowed back for the burial so the service was held in Klein Glienicke at a church right next to the border, which at the time was closed only by a chain-link fence ringed with barbed wire.

Pictures show the mourners in West Berlin weeping on the other side of the fence, as the pastor speaks out loudly to be heard on both sides.

Story continues below…

Anyone caught acting suspiciously could be cast out immediately, and found themselves quickly replaced by more "reliable" East German citizens.

"They had soldiers, customs agents, police officer and Stasi (secret service) people move in as residents were pushed out," Arndt said.

Heinrich worked as a gym teacher to avoid the ideological pitfalls but was occasionally called upon to take over a history class.

"When I was teaching the Nazi period I noticed frightening parallels in terms of surveillance of citizens," she said.

Heinrich said with a smile the fall of the Wall was "the greatest birthday present and it still is every year. But I am still learning what it means to be myself, without being afraid of the consequences."


The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Outrage over ruling on 'brutal' gang rape of teen girl
The now convicted suspects, sitting in court in Hamburg. Photo: DPA.

A 14-year-old girl was gang-raped and left partially clothed and unconscious in freezing temperatures. Now prosecutors are appealing the sentences for the young men found guilty, most of whom will not set foot in jail.

Dozens of Turkish diplomats apply for asylum in Germany
Demonstrators holding a giant Turkish flag protest against the attempted coup in Istanbul in July. Photo: DPA.

Since the failed putsch attempt in Turkey in July, Germany has received 35 asylum applications from people with Turkish diplomatic passports, the Interior Ministry confirmed on Wednesday.

Hertha Berlin fan club criticised for 'anti-gay banner'
Hertha BSC beat FC Cologne 2-1. Photo: DPA

A 50 metre fan banner apparently mocking the idea of gay adoption has overshadowed Hertha BSC's win in the Bundesliga.

Germany stalls Chinese takeover of tech firm Aixtron
Aixtron headquarters in Herzogenrath. Photo: DPA

The German government on Monday said it had withdrawn approval for a Chinese firm to acquire Aixtron, a supplier to the semiconductor industry, amid growing unease over Chinese investment in German companies.

Politicians call for tough sentences for 'killer clowns'
File photo: DPA.

Now that the so-called 'killer clown' craze has spread from the US to Germany, elected officials are drawing a hard line against such "pranks", with some threatening offenders with jail time of up to a year.

Nearly one in ten Germans are severely disabled
Photo: DPA

New figures reveal that 9.3 percent of the German population last year were considered severely disabled.

The Local List
Germany's top 10 most surreal sites to visit
The Upside-Down House, in Mecklenburg–Western Pomerania. Photo: Olaf Meister / Wikimedia Commons

From upside-down houses on Baltic islands to a fairy-tale castle near the Austrian border, Germany is a treasure trove of the extraordinary.

Bavarian critics back Merkel for Chancellor again
Photo: DPA

The Christian Social Union (CSU) have long delayed backing Angela Merkel as their candidate for Chancellor in next year's general election. But now key leaders are supporting her publicly.

Four taken to hospital after hotel toilet bursts into flames
File photo: DPA.

Four guests at a Nuremberg hotel were taken to hospital due to smoke inhalation early Monday morning after a toilet there burst into flames.

Creepy clown scare spreads to Germany
Two of the clowns were apparently equipped with chainsaws. Photo: Pedro Pardo / AFP file picture

Police said Friday five incidents involving so-called scary clowns had occurred in two north German towns, including one assailant who hit a man with a baseball bat, amid fears that Halloween could spark a rash of similar attacks.

10 things you never knew about socialist East Germany
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
How Germans fell in love with America's favourite squash
How I ditched London for Berlin and became a published author
12 clever German idioms that'll make you sound like a pro
23 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
9 unmissable events to check out in Germany this October
10 things you never knew about German reunification
10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
10 German films you have to watch before you die
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd