The Country Wall

Someone asked me not long ago, if the people from East Berlin, during the time of the Berlin Wall, wanted so much to go to the west side, why didn't they just walk round the end of it? The fact is, the situation that West Berlin found itself in after the end of the Second World War was so odd, unless you know Berlin, and exactly where it is, it must be quite difficult to visualize what it was like. In fact it is barely fifty kilometers from the Polish border, and was deep inside Communist East Germany, completely surrounded by the wall. The section of the wall which went through the city itself was just one section. It continued on around the outer border of the City, and this section was called 'The Country Wall'.

Transit route map

   When the wall first went up, the 'Country' section was just about the 'leakiest' part it, and many escapees made it to the west through fields and woods, and even through people's gardens and summer houses. But slowly and surely, over time, all the places where escape was possible were plugged up. Any building close to the border was demolished.
   But things here were far more complex than in the city section of the wall. There were three motorways running out from West Berlin to West Germany, and the Railway had to go through as well, and there was also a canal system for the transport of heavy supplies like coal. Large border controls were set up on the roads, and the rail line surrounded by fences and barbed wire for a kilometre or so before it actually ran into Western Territory. Whenever East-West tension was high, the East Germans used these border control areas to irritate the West by introducing interminable delays for travellers. At all times at the motorway control points, the guards took note of how long it had taken motorists to do the journey, and if it was too quick, you must have been speeding. If it was too long, they were equally suspicious, because leaving the designated 'transit route' was forbidden. Occasionally, travelling Westerners would be arrested as they tried to make the journey between Berlin and West Germany and back, and they would disappear into the East German prison system. Quite a few were discovered in prison after the fall of the East German state.
   I only used a surface route between East and West once while the East German state still existed, using the train. Leaving Hamburg, the train was very quickly at the border with East Germany. It drew up in a special border control siding, and guards came on board and checked everyone's papers. Outside, lined up along the train, more guards stood, rifles slung under their arms, as though someone might suddenly jump down and try to make a break for it. It was like being in an old wartime spy movie!

Map of 2 Staaken Stations

   The local S-Bahn trains for the city of Berlin, as they entered the suburbs, had the very ends of their lines amputated by the Country Wall. The villages and small towns that lay beyond the city boundary were cut off from Berlin. One village, Staaken, was itself cut in half by the Country Wall. The old Staaken station was in the West, and the East Germans built another Staaken station on their own territory. To go between the west-side Staaken and east-side Staaken stations, which were separated by only a few hundred yards, one had to take a circuitous route via East Berlin and round the outside of West Berlin back to almost where you started from, but on the other side of the wall. The old Staaken station fell into ruin when the line was closed in the eighties, and was not re-used when the line opened up again after the fall of the wall. It is now demolished. (See this month's images for pictures of Staaken station and the Country Wall area nearby)

Map of Berlin 'Ring Rail'

   To connect up the cut off suburbs outside West Berlin, the East Germans built a circular line to connect them with East Berlin. The amputated ends of the radial railway lines were also connected to this. It still made for an arduous journey if one had to commute to work that way. You can imagine the relief of the inhabitants of these places when the wall came down. Not only could they visit West Berlin and all its delights, but they could also commute to work straight through West Berlin. The broken links were slowly but surely reconnected, though there is still work to be done in this regard at the time of writing.

Go to Essay 6, 'Potsdamer Platz'

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