Those barricades can only hold for so long
July 3, 2008 10:01 PM   Subscribe

Twenty years ago this week, the biggest escape ever over the Berlin Wall took place, but the event went nearly unreported outside of the two Germanies. The 182 persons who jumped over the Wall in the early morning hours of 1 July 1988, instead of leaving East Germany, fled in the opposite direction (scroll down to "Wolfgang Ritter") to escape the West Berlin police. East German border guards waited with trucks on the other side of the Wall in the middle of the death strip to pick up the wall-hopping protesters; they were driven to another location, served breakfast, and then taken to the Friedrichsstrasse crossing to West Berlin with the admonition to "use the usual border crossing next time."

The Lenné Triangle, where the wall jumpers lived in their tent village (including a "People's Kitchen") for the month before the police raid (slideshow here), was part of the bustling Potsdamer Platz before the Second World War. On the division of Berlin it turned into a no-man's land and an accidental nature preserve. After the reunification of Berlin it again became part of the center of commercial development. In 2007, $117 million in restitution was finally paid to the Wertheim family, who had owned the property and been stripped of it in the 1930s due to National Socialist anti-Jewish laws.
posted by sister nunchaku of love and mercy (16 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
dang, i'm such a n00b. next time i'll know how to use that "more inside" thingy. promise.
posted by sister nunchaku of love and mercy at 10:11 PM on July 3, 2008


Great post. Maybe Vacapinta could come and edit it below the fold a little?
posted by Jofus at 10:58 PM on July 3, 2008


Helpful: an interactive map of the Berlin Wall as it once existed and as memorialized today. It's near the southeast corner of the Tiergarten, the large (green) central park just southwest of the middle of the map.
posted by dhartung at 11:06 PM on July 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


dhartung, thanks for that link about the wall now and then. I've never made it a secret that I dearly and deeply love Berlin as a city and a very significant place in my life.

sister nunkachu:I hadn't heard about this story- the idea that someone would go over the wall in the other direction sort of boggles my mind. So thank you ever so much.

I can remember seeing a deer in between the walls when I was there (1977-80), and I always wondered how it got in.
posted by pjern at 11:42 PM on July 3, 2008


pjern: I'm glad you found the story interesting. I was living there then or I doubt I'd have heard of it.

About the deer between the 2 walls that made up the Wall: we usually think of the Wall as having been this contiguous, machine-refined structure, but it was really only so where it bordered on East Berlin proper. Where it wandered into the East German suburbs, it was sometimes makeshift and crumbling (esp. by the late 80s), and there were also quite a few weird enclaves and exclaves, like the Lenné Triangle. (God, the whole thing was so strange.) Anyway, I'm not surprised that a deer could get in there. I just hope it got out okay, unlike most people who ever entered that space.
posted by sister nunchaku of love and mercy at 12:25 AM on July 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


In 2007, $117 million in restitution was finally paid to the Wertheim family, who had owned the property and been stripped of it in the 1930s due to National Socialist anti-Jewish laws.

This is one real way in which Germany has tried to face its past. Apparently on the sale of all real-estate in Germany, the authorities are required to investigate the possibility that it was stolen from a Jewish family in the 1930s. After re-unification this was put in place in East Germany.

So a few years ago a friend of mine in his 60's gets a registered letter from some German authority concerning property outside of Dresden which apparently had been confiscated by the Nazis from his grandfather. Until he received this letter, he had no idea of this as his family (in a series of unfortunate choices) fled from Germany to Austria to Czechoslovakia and finally to Sweden. It was the German government who tracked him down (and independently his sister in Los Angeles) and contacted them inviting them to file a formal claim in Germany.

Turns out the communists had built an electronics factory on the site and Philips was the buyer so it was a pretty big transaction. My friend and his sister had no interest in interfering with the sale (or in exercising his "right to return" as my friend sardonically expressed it) so it went through as usual. And then the German government paid out the full cash value of the sales price to them.

Obviously, this does not entirely compensate for the past, but it's an effort to come correct.

My friend says "The German people, they've come a long way."

Don't think modern Germany gets enough credit for this.
posted by three blind mice at 1:18 AM on July 4, 2008 [16 favorites]


Don't think modern Germany gets enough credit for this.

Particularly when compared to the niggardly attitude of Japan when dealing with wartime atrocities.
posted by rodgerd at 1:42 AM on July 4, 2008


fled from Germany to Austria to Czechoslovakia and finally to Sweden

Jesus.
posted by Jofus at 1:48 AM on July 4, 2008


Jesus.

No not Jesus. Nothing like Jesus at all. Swedish trade unionists.

Apparently Sweden had very limited quotas for Jews - something like 250. In 1939, my friend's grandfather is living on the streets in Prague - literally - when Chamberlaín goes to Münich. By now he sort of realized that there was a pattern to all of this and - being a trade unionist - he approaches some Czech trade unionists looking for help.

Not being so fond of Jews, but having some sympathy for a fellow commie, they put him in touch with some Swedish trade unionists. One thing lead to another and the Swedish trade unions managed to get him the 249th visa. Just by the hair of his chinny, chin, chin so to speak.

He left Prague with his Swedish visa while the Germans after the Germans occupied it. He has all the letters his grandfather wrote during those years. And the passport with a Nazi Swastika stamped right over his Swedish visa. Crazy stuff.
posted by three blind mice at 2:10 AM on July 4, 2008 [3 favorites]


begging your mercy for the derail sister nunchaku of love and mercy. it's one of those stories that always comes to my mind with i think about german re-unification. the west was always better than the east in dealing honestly with its past.
posted by three blind mice at 3:26 AM on July 4, 2008


Particularly when compared to the niggardly attitude of Japan when dealing with wartime atrocities.

And let's not even start on the obligations of the U.S. to aboriginals and descendants of slaves. But that's a whole nother post.

btw, very cool FPP. I love that Berlin still had hippies in 1988. In fact, I just love Berlin.
posted by nax at 6:28 AM on July 4, 2008


Heute sind wir alle Berliners ...
posted by aldus_manutius at 6:34 AM on July 4, 2008


three blind mice: no problem, i think your comments are relevant and fascinating. the post kind of had two distinct parts, anyway. i'm just happy people like the post, because i always wanted to see the story out there. the German sources on the web are more numerous every year (increasing from almost none a few years ago), but as you see i couldn't find much in English.

also: earlier that year i got a snootful of tear gas from the West Berlin police (i was in the wrong place at the wrong time), and so the direction in which the hippies and commies and Autonomen (oh my!) ran is understandable to me.
posted by sister nunchaku of love and mercy at 7:16 AM on July 4, 2008


I love that Berlin still had hippies in 1988.

It still has hippies now. The presence of hippies in berlin is like the ravens in the tower of london - when the hippies are gone the nation will fall.
posted by Artw at 9:07 AM on July 4, 2008


but the event went nearly unreported outside of the two Germanies.

I do remember reading about this at the time it happened. The New Republic did a story about this little episode. But you're pretty much right; it wasn't front page material here in the States.
posted by jason's_planet at 10:37 AM on July 4, 2008


I also remember reading that the East German cops offered the squatters asylum.

I don't think anyone took them up on their offer.
posted by jason's_planet at 10:38 AM on July 4, 2008


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