Visiting the Berlin Wall – Richard Clarke

Visiting the Berlin Wall – Richard Clarke

Back in the summer of 1991 I had the good fortune to be invited by the then British Army of the Rhine (BAOR) to be their guest on a visit to the cosmopolitan, historic and formerly divided city of Berlin. I stayed with the Royal Logistics Corps Depot in Spandau, the suburban area of the city where Rudolf Hess was imprisoned for many years before his death. Of course, in the very recent past a highly momentous event had taken place in the city with the very public fall of the Berlin Wall signalling the beginning of the end of the Cold War and the Warsaw Pact.

Berlin Wall

Part of the Berlin Wall (Image by – Noir)

One of the fall outs – literally – of the Wall being torn down was the sudden availability of thousands of pieces of concrete masonry, some of which had various shades of garish graffiti adorning them! One of my goals during my well timed trip was to visit various locations where the Wall had been in place, including the infamous Checkpoint Charlie –  scene of many stand offs between East and West and numerous dramatic spy stories, as written by the likes of Len Deighton and company, which still had a strange aura and an air of tension surrounding it, despite being rendered redundant and decommissioned back in the previous November. In addition I visited Potsdamer Platz, location of the Brandenburg Gate with the statue of the chariot and horses infamously turned to face the East by Erik Hoenecker and his fellow apparatchiks when the Wall was initially constructed; with the dual objectives of promoting the worthiness of the Warsaw Pact and acting as a direct insult to the West and the NATO forces.

From the point of view of obtaining genuine pieces of Berlin Wall, there was very little left across the centre of Berlin because of the activities of the so called ‘woodpeckers’ whose motivations ranged from making a tidy profit to obtaining a unique souvenir.

Berlin Wall 1961 11 20

Construction of the Berlin Wall 1961

There had long been a misguided view amongst members of the public that the Wall had just stretched across the centre of the city but of course in reality it surrounded the whole of West Berlin in an 80 mile long loop effectively making the residents prisoners behind the lines of barbed wire, concrete, searchlights and emphasised by the presence of vicious dogs, trip wires and armed guards in the watchtowers. 

Spandauer Forst Gesperrtes Waldgebiet

Spandau Forest (Image by Colin Smith)

With the sheer scale and significance of this monstrous structure in mind I decided to head out to Spandau Forest with a colleague, having been advised by some BAOR colleagues that if you walked far enough out of town you would be guaranteed to reach the so called Anti Fascist Barrier! Sure enough as we continued our walk through the thick forest we came upon a huge clearing stretching for about thirty yards before us where all of the trees and foliage had been felled looking as though a huge avalanche had flattened all before it.

Spandaur forst

Spandau Forest (Image by Leonhard Lenz)

Walking out onto this clearing elicited a very eerie feeling with the barren area stretching as far as the eye could see to right and left and it was difficult to picture the inhuman scene that had been in place only a relatively short time before. It was also incredible to realise that all evidence of the Wall being there had been demolished so quickly with every remnant had been removed without trace – a good example of German efficiency and organisation with a highly political overtone of course. However not everything had disappeared and as we walked around the clearing the realisation dawned upon us that there were still numerous pieces of the Wall littered around, which we were only too keen to take charge off, there were even some pieces of barbed wire, which we also acquired!

Spandau Forest

Spandau Forest (Image by Leonhard Lenz)

This was an experience that I would not have wanted to miss but I have to admit that I was very pleased to get away from that clearing in the forest because strange as it may seem there was an indescribable, sinister and mysterious feeling that the Wall had never gone away… Mirrored by an eerie stillness and silence.


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