Welcome to my blog, where I take pleasure in words and pictures, be they my own or those of others. I'm a creative individual, and the crafty side I explore on my 'other blog', Picking Up The Threads, which I hope you'll visit too. I'm sure you understand that I have sole copyright of my original work and any of my contributions, so please ask if you want to use them. A polite request is rarely refused. So, as they used to say on the BBC's 'Listen With Mother' radio programme, many years ago: "Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin."

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Where We Were Then

This week's Sepia Saturday prompt is a picture of heads of state meeting for the Potsdam Conference in 1945. I haven't got any pictures of meetings, or round tables or famous politicians in my album, and although technically speaking I've been to Potsdam, it was only the railway station, where the engine of our train was checked by East German officials before our onward journey. I have, however, been to Potsdamer Platz in Berlin, which is named after the city where the prompt picture took place. What's more, it's nearly thirty years since my visit and the Berlin Wall was still in place. So, for this week's post I'm offering a few of the pictures from my 1984 three-day visit to Berlin, courtesy of the Royal Air Force, in which my husband was serving at the time.

Potsdamer Platz East Berlin 1984
The information board below shows some landmark dates in the history of Potsdamer Platz. I'm not going to write about it here as there is a wealth of information on the internet for those who care to look. Wikipedia alone has a very comprehensive page with many links. This is about our own personal visit.

We were stationed at RAF Rheindahlen when the opportunity arose, and we would have been foolish not to have taken it. We travelled on 'The Berliner' British Military Train with The Royal Corps of Transport. Our travel document shows the stages of our journey and marks points of interest. You can see them on Flickr here. The train was boarded and documents checked at various stages and and there is the stark message telling us that  between Helmstedt and Marienborn we should look out on both sides for guard dogs, barbed wire, minefields and watch towers.

The overriding impression from the train windows of the East was of an austere, colourless and gloomy landscape. The contrast on arrival in West Berlin came as a relief. We were able to see the sights of East Berlin but we were ferried around in a military coach from which we were not allowed to alight and which once more came under scrutiny constantly. We were told to hold our British passports up at the coach window and were not allowed to show anything else.



At the famous 'Checkpoint Charlie' we were warned that we were 'Now leaving the American sector' as can be seen on the sign on the right of this picture. This was a crossing point in the Berlin Wall for foreigners and members of the allied forces. It frequently features in spy books and movies.


 Another, much older, landmark, the Brandenburg Gate, was enclosed and inaccessible, sited next to the wall itself. I was only able to photograph it through the windows of the coach, hence the reflections of buildings and trees, which add to the ghostly and unreal feel. The gate dates from the 18th century, and was commissioned by King Frederick William II of Prussia as a sign of peace. Over the years it was the site of many historic events and stood as a symbol of a tumultuous Europe. Since the fall of the wall, only five years after these photos were taken, it once more represents a time of European unity and peace.

In the East we were able to visit what was then Germany's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Neue Wache. In 1984 it still represented a memorial 'to the victims of Fascism and Militarism'. After re-unification it was re-dedicated as 'The Central Memorial of the Federal Republic of Germany for the Victims of War and Tyranny'.

During our visit it was guarded by goose-stepping soldiers who made the very ground beneath our feet tremble as they marched past; even the memory makes me shudder.

Another memorable sight was the war-damaged church, Kaiser Wilhelm Gedaechtniskirche, nicknamed 'The Broken Tooth' by Berliners and left as a symbol of the ravages of war. The church still stands in former West Berlin, but is currently under new threat from traffic and water damage as this Reuters article explains. Even at that time it was covered in scaffold but was joined by new buildings on either side, also given the nicknames of the lipstick and the powder box, because of their distinctive shape.

The Soviet War Memorial in Treptower Park was one of the most moving sights. The monument also served as a tomb for 5000 of the 80,000 Soviet troops killed in the Battle for Berlin in 1945.





















All members of the Forces had to wear their uniform whilst on this trip. Here is my husband in front of one of the memorials in Treptower Park.

We did get to see some of Berlin by night. This is Theodore Heuss Platz, where our hotel, Edinburgh House was. I seem to remember we even visited some of the bars and 'nightclubs' very briefly, but this wasn't the Berlin of  'Cabaret'. Recently David Bowie recalled his time in Berlin (from 1976- 9) in his single, 'Where Are We Now?' and he recalls shopping in KadeWe, a huge department store similar to Harrods. He also took the train from Potsdamer Platz, bringing us full circle to where this post began.

That's where we were in April 1984; so where are we now? Well we Sepians are in the best place, as we can visit other contributors to this week's Sepia Saturday and see what they made of the picture prompt. Why not join us? We also have a Facebook group where we share further ideas and pictures.

28 comments:

  1. My main memory of that trip was standing in my RAF officer's uniform, with my Pentax camera, next to a Russian officer with his Zenit camera, as the huge East German soldiers goose-stepped past us. We didn't speak but our mutual glance was definitely, "This is weird!"

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  2. My image of East Berlin of that era is entirely from spy movies, so it's refreshing to have an "ordinary" tour, thank you. I always thought goose-stepping soldiers looked more comical than frightening.

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    1. You had to be there, and there was nothing comical about them.

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    2. I wasn't there but I can believe that!

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  3. That was a wonderful tour of a time and place that is gone forever. So nice that you have the historic photos. Sorry Brett, but I think the goose stepping is frightening.
    Nancy

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  4. Great to see these old photos. I visited Berlin six years ago and saw Potsdamer Platz with its bars and cinemas, while the Brandenburg Gate and Checkpoint Charlie were full of parties of coach tourists. It's amazing to see how different they looked, but also scary to think that it was only twenty years before my own visit.

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  5. I too was there in 1984 and am glad I saw the city as it was, divided in such a bizarre way. We drove into East Berlin (leaving our tiny 2 berth caravan in a west car park), but I think we did not really know where we were going or what we should see as I remember little of interest except blocks of flats ! The overriding air of suspicion sticks in my mind, the huge pair of binoculars and camera with a massive telephoto lens on the desk at Checkpoint Charlie for peeping and recording who was in the queue, and a minute inspection of the underside of my car with mirrors. Did they expect me to smuggle someone INTO the east ??

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    1. You're right about that air of suspicion. There was also the morbid history of those who had lost their lives trying to escape to the West. I decided to just stick to the landmarks for this post or it would have been too long, but my memories were of a general downbeat feeling of sadness. The Russian memorial was one of the most moving things I've seen, and bear in mind, that same Easter we did a tour of the Somme as well. That was quite an emotional few days altogether.

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    2. You will enjoy my Youtube of a Soviet Memorial where freedom has overcome tyranny in Poland.... http://youtu.be/RwQS4kYcgOk

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    3. Thank you Nigel, I did. That was lucky being there for the memorial service. Nicely shot too. I need a new camera!

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  6. Really interesting. I've never been to Germany, east or west. It's great how these Sepia Saturday posts help me learn history from all over the world in a most interesting way. Thank you.
    And, what a great photo of the goose stepping soldiers - I'm surprised you were allowed to take it.

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  7. You have a snap shot of history in this post, Marilyn. My daughter was in Berlin on the first anniversary of the Wall coming down; she has always regretted not having a camera at the time.
    I hve never been a fan of the goose step.

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  8. Interesting. There is nowhere quite like Berlin. Such a strange and interesting place. The building next to the ruined church, the one with lots of tiny windows or glass bricks, or something, was truly one of the ugliest and least uplifting church buildings I ever was in. I had forgotten it till I saw your photo.

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  9. The Lipstick and Powder Box -- what apt names. I bet somebody regretted that architectural decision, but it's rather fun to see a community make light of it. I liked how you not only showed pictures of what you saw but also you recreated the mood of the times. Like Jackie said, this is an interesting way to learn about history.

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  10. Quite an interesting trip! The map you have on flickr would make a good subject for the MapLib widget.

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  11. I've always been a bit frustrated I didn't visit Berlin before die Wende (in 1988 in high school I could choose between a trip to London or Berlin and I choose London). I've been there a few years ago, I've seen nearly all the places you describe. It is still a very varied and diverse city with emperor, nazi, american and communist influences. That provides a strange vibe, not like any other world capital I've visited so far.

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  12. Oh my you really bring back some memories for me. I actually was at that very Checkpoint Charlie, and some of the other places you have photos of. I still call that the Glass Church! My cousin was with us when we reached the wall, we were young children and I didn't have any idea what this place was all about (being very American) but he did, and he was very fearful of it all. My father had already warned us not to cross over to the East side no matter what, (he didn't come to Germany with us) I enjoyed much of Berlin and several other cities around but I missed home more!

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  13. thanks for sharing all the information and memories

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  14. I hve not been to Berlin and found your post fascinating. I once had an interview for working in the library at RAF Rheindahlen - not sure if it was really for me, and I did not get the job anyway. A pity, as I would have liekd to work in Germany at that stage in my life.

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  15. "Tear down this wall" - I seem to always remember that line in Reagan's speech. I was a high school freshman then. I enjoyed your story very much. Thanks.

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  16. By one of those strange coincidences that make life so interesting, I too visited Berlin in 1984 (although I can't be certain it was April). I was visiting some EU institution I was doing some work for (European Centre For Continuing Education, I think it was). It was my first, and so far only, visit to the city, but interestingly enough (and another coincidence), Isobel and I were only discussing the possibilities of visiting the city a couple of days ago.

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  17. I visited Germany last Fall, but not Berlin. We were on a bus tour between Amsterdam and Heildelbury. I couldn't get over how clean the country side was! Good post.

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  18. have you been back recently? I bet its changed a lot.
    Its a city I've never been too ...although I did experience driving through East Germany (further north)enroute to Poland in the 60s with my Mum+Dad..I remember the checkpoints....mirrors under cars (to check for refugees:etc)..etc etc.
    Your Photos are great.They evoke the period so well.I am puzzled tho,why did your husband have to wear his uniform on a trip to The East?

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  19. Fascinating memories and photos, a time that seemed more certain than it was. I've seen a painting of the Berliner train recently so the travel documents were a fascinating addition.

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  20. What a tour! That's a fine set of photographs! Thanks!

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  21. Marilyn a very interesting trip in 1984. Berlin, a beautiful city and a very distinctive language. It is said:"in Berlin the nights are long," your night picture, did you think so?

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  22. Great memories!! Reminds me of ex-colleagues who were working in Switzerland at the time and visiting Berlin when the wall was brought down. They called me amidst all of the celebrations. Unification was a great moment but brought its share of headaches, what with the poverty prevailing in the east. Where are they now? Quite recovered I daresay, with with Merkel at the helm!!!
    :)~
    HUGZ

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  23. Marilyn, this is fascinating. Just as I had imagined it, stark, and a bit scary. How neat that you guys got to visit there. Your sweetie is quite handsome in his uniform.

    I enjoyed all of the history that you shared with us too.

    Kathy M.

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