West Berlin - An Island in the Red Sea

West Berlin - An Island in the Red Sea

The anomaly had many names. Depending upon one’s ideological perspective, the remarkable construct behind the Iron Curtain was called Berlin (West), West Berlin or Westberlin. It described a territory that had fallen out of time. People slept, worked, ate, drank, loved and died in a former metropolis, which they just could not leave. This zone, controlled by the Western Allied Forces after 1945, was situated in the middle of opponent territory. When a West Berliner decided to go by metro from Hermannplatz in Neukölln in the south to Wedding in the north - that is from one western borough to another western borough - he was taking a trip on a ghost train. In the middle of the journey, the train trundled through sparsely lit, deserted stations. When the passenger got down from the train, he had traversed, underground, the capital of the German Democratic Republic.

One was confined in Berlin on either side – even though the West Berliners naturally had the significant privilege of being able to leave the city and travel to the west by car, train and plane. And yet, both sides of the city were magnets - Not only for the spies of the western and eastern intelligence services, but primarily for anyone looking for a life beyond one of bourgeois normalcy. Berlin was a promise, even though a divided one. Adventurous people came to the western side of the Wall from far away. Since the late sixties, they have come in thousands from “West Germany”, as the heartland of the Federal Republic of Germany was known as in Berlin. For many West German young men residing in West Berlin, being here brought with it the advantage of freeing them from conscription into the Federal Armed Forces. But they also came from the metropolises of the western world to breathe the heavy air of the city in winter. The emissions from the East German industrial plants mixed with the smoke of burnt briquettes that poured from tens of thousands of tiled stoves. Those coming from West Germany registered this first, stepping into this enclave: the almost metallic smell of a city from another world. This smell, difficult to describe, went deeper than any picture. For many travellers from the “free world”, it was the scent of promise.