50 years on, village remembers Berlin Wall closing in

When the Berlin Wall went up overnight 50 years ago, the trapped East German enclave of Klein Glienicke became one of the most tightly guarded communities on the planet.

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, 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 West 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 shootout.

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.

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."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Life and Style
Powdered colors are displayed for sale at a market ahead of the Holi festival in Bhopal, India
techHere's what you need to know about the riotous occasion
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
News
Details of the self-cleaning coating were published last night in the journal Science
science
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
News
Life-changing: Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, two years before she wrote 'The Second Sex', credited as the starting point of second wave feminism
peopleHer seminal feminist polemic, The Second Sex, has been published in short-form to mark International Women's Day
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Product Advisor - Automotive

    £17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to the consistent growth of...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Automotive

    £18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ex...

    Recruitment Genius: Renewals Sales Executive - Automotive

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ou...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
    Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

    Lost without a trace

    But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
    Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

    Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

    Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
    International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
    Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

    Confessions of a planespotter

    With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
    Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

    Russia's gulag museum

    Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
    The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

    The big fresh food con

    Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
    Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

    Virginia Ironside was my landlady

    Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
    Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

    Paris Fashion Week 2015

    The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
    8 best workout DVDs

    8 best workout DVDs

    If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
    Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

    Paul Scholes column

    I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
    Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
    Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

    Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

    The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable