In 1971, my parents and I visited East Berlin shortly after my 13th birthday. The adventure was on a whim, but the experience was a “life changer.” If my memories of the city were not so vivid, I would attribute the faded, grey scenes to the camera and film I used at the time. Even the weather seemed sunny on the west — mere feet from the wall that separated the sectors. Shortly after the first picture was taken, we entered Checkpoint Charlie where my Archie comic books were confiscated by an East German guard. My father was more concerned when they took our passports — which were returned. I hoped Betty, Veronica, Archie and Jughead made it to some East German pre-teen’s secret stash of contraband from the West.
UPDATE: I have added a photo from our visit to the Hotel Berolina at the bottom of this post. Excerpt from fascinating article about why we were encouraged to visit (link below).
“At first glance, Interhotel was a chain, comparable to Hilton or Radisson. But since the GDR was a socialist state, this chain was property of the government. The remarkable thing about them was that the beloved workers and farmers of the GDR weren’t supposed to stay in the hotels; they were mostly designated for the upper-class of the country and guests from non-socialist states. It was an easy way for the government to earn the foreign currencies it so desperately coveted, since the D-Mark was not accepted in the Interhotels. At the same time, the Ministerium of Staatssicherheit, better known by their secret intelligence service Stasi, made sure everything that happened in these hotels was monitored. There are even confirmed stories of Stasi members who pretended to be prostitutes in order to place western guests into compromising situations.”
Photographed with a Kodak Instamatic camera and Ektachrome slide film.
I visited Berlin summer of 1967 entering through Checkpoint Charlie. West Berlin was rebuilt and thriving while East Berlin hadn’t been rebuilt since the war. There were no cars on the streets at all. Very few if any retail stores and during most of my visit I was alone on the sidewalk but could see people watching me through what must have been apartment windows. Spooky. The subway had two lines I believe: The U-ban and the S-ban. The S-ban was used in the west but past through East Berlin stations that were closed. Trains slowed but did not stop. There were soldiers with machine guns at these stations.
Wow. That was at the height of the Cold War. Took a lot of guts to go it alone! When we were there the pedestrians at designated tourist areas appeared choreographed as if summoned by a stage director.
I was there in 1971 also and my experience was even more drab. I was traveling with a study tour group and spent just one afternoon there with a teacher and another girl in our group. At the crossing not only did they take our passports (yikes!) but they separated us from our teacher (a man) for a short time. Once in East Berlin I didn’t feel any better. NO ONE was on the street (was it maybe a Sunday or a holiday??). We walked the empty streets and looked into the empty shop windows. Just large, cold, empty buildings. We had dinner at a dark and serious restaurant down a side street, below street level, filled with old people in grey clothing. The oppression hung heavy in the air.
We may have crossed paths! We definitely had the same experience — no one on the streets and then a crowd would materialize as if on cue — or as my mother said at the time, like “extras” in a movie.
When we returned to the States, my English teacher, who thought I was a troublemaker insisted that I make a presentation about the trip to the class (nobody else was asked to do this). Afterwards she declared that she couldn’t understand how I came away with such a paltry amount of information!! The next day a classmate whose mother had evacuated Berlin shortly before WW2 told me that she declared my description of the desolation, “false.” At the time I felt terrible and wondered if I imagined the whole thing. Now I realize his mother was operating from her pre-war memory and it was probably a misunderstanding. Thank you for sharing your recollections. It’s nice to hear from someone who shared a similar experience and also validates my observations and experiences.
I visited East Berlin in 1984. It’s amazing how the place looked the same in your photos, 13 years apart!
It was like visiting a time capsule back to the early 1960’s during our visit — it must have looked even stranger from the vantage point of the mid-1980’s. Can you post some of your pictures? It would be interesting to see them. Thanks for visiting.