Ramble On

Saturday, May 19, 2012

...and the guards shot above our heads...

Berlin Wall, Neukolln, October 1984, with a Solidarity logo.
I posted today's photos on the blog before, last August, during the 50th anniversary of the Berlin Wall's construction.  After seeing the exhibit at the Newseum the other night, I thought I might repost them.

First, an explanation of the title of the posts for yesterday and today.  These are phrases from the lyrics of David Bowie's song Heroes:

I can remember standing by the Wall
And the guards shot above our heads
And we kissed as though nothing could fall
And the shame was on the other side
Oh we can beat them
Forever and ever
Then we can be heroes
Just for one day

I took these photos on a Saturday in October 1984.  A friend of mine decided he would like to talk a walk along the Wall in the Neukolln and Kreuzberg districts of Berlin to see if there  was any graffiti left that might have indicated that David Bowie visited that spot - there were famous photos of him standing near his name painted on the Wall. We didn't find any of that graffiti, but the experience of wandering down those streets and alleys left a lasting memory.

The problem with talking a walk along the Wall in Berlin at the time is that the construction crossed so many property lines, and at any turn you might walk for some distance and come to a fence line you couldn't cross.  You'd have to go back and retrace your steps, and find another alley or street to get back to the line of the Wall.  This would turn a 10-mile hike into a 12-or 15-mile hike pretty quickly.  (That was an unpleasant finding a couple of times in 1983 when I was preparing for the Berlin Marathon, by the way, and my running partner wanted to spice up our routes with a run along the Wall!)

Berlin Wall, Neukolln, October 1984.  With an East German guard tower
and truck, and a view of the "Death Strip" or no man's land.
I have a couple of great memories from the walk that day.  The photo of the Wall above brings a couple to mind.  First, the logo for the Polish Solidarity movement is inscribed there - what some call the Polish crisis was the first geopolitical event to great me after my arrival in Berlin, so there was good context for the location this photo was taken from.  But also, the street we went down to get to the observation platform, and climbing the stairs themselves, was an interesting part of the day.

These districts in Berlin were known as art districts - there were subsidies for the residents, and the buildings were generally in a poor state of repair, and the environment attracted a good number of "edgy artists" to the area.  As we turned down the street that led to the platform, we encountered a group of people that were filming a little scene with a video camera and boom microphone.  The scene included a women getting into a car that was parked in the neighborhood there, and there were between six and eight people involved.

We strolled quietly through there, keeping to ourselves, but there was no hiding that we were American GIs passing through.  The little crowd glowered at our passing, and then one of them broke away and followed us up the stairs and stood nearby smoking on the platform.  I wasn't particularly afraid of them, they were obviously Germans and it was unlikely any of them were carrying weapons - and they'd be foolish to try to beat us up or rob us with all the expensive equipment they had at the shoot below.

Still, his presence up there was annoying, and a little threatening.  So we stayed up there about 10 minutes before moving on.

In this area, central as it was, we were encountering a lot of guard towers.  We'd see a head pop up in the observation cab, a camera with a telephoto lens pop out, and then all would disappear while we took our photos.  Soon it was like a game - as we approached, the head, then the camera, and then the disappearing act.

My colleague and I began to imagine the telephone calls between the towers:

"Yeah, two of them up on the platform now.  American GIs taking photos.  Nothing interesting.  They'll be at your tower area in 10 minutes."

Sure enough, the head would appear as soon as we got into the field of view for the next tower.

We walked along until we eventually reached the Hallesches Tor U-bahn stop, which luckily was only two stops from our Platz Der Luftbrucke home base at Tempelhof.

That second photo has a lot going for it, in my book.  It's one of the best Wall photos I took during my five years there, and I was very lucky to get one with a vehicle in it.  Of course, that view of the death strip in the Wall photo above isn't bad either.

As far as the memories of the day I took them, though, we'll those rank right up there too.

No comments: