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?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
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

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Bid Writer

    £25000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in Manchester, Lon...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor - OTE £20,000 Uncapped

    £15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Guru Careers: Membership Administrator

    £23K: Guru Careers: We're seeking an experienced Membership Administrator, to ...

    Day In a Page

    Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

    Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

    Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
    Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
    Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

    The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

    Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
    The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

    The future of songwriting

    How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
    William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

    Recognition at long last

    Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
    Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

    Beating obesity

    The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
    9 best women's festival waterproofs

    Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

    These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
    Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

    Wiggins worried

    Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific