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Objects in Context

SARA BROWN A Divided GERMANY Trikery in GOERING’S ROOM an officers UNIFORM and the TRABANT

A history of the BERLIN WALL

28th December It was a well-executed plan,

Taken at Royal Airforce Guterslogh, 12 Jul 1988

or at

For the past five months the young Luftwaffe officers from the night fighter base in Gutersloh had been engineering a trick to play on their commander-in-chief; Hermann Goering. When visiting the base Goering would occupy the officers’ mess, his visits where always short but the night before he left he would offer drinks and supper in his room. These nights tended to be long and alcoholic, and would reliably result in a boastful anecdote from Goering himself. Whether it be about his personal life or his successful career this story would finish with the sentence “If I’m lying, then let the roof fall down on us”. This is where the officers’ plan came into action. It had taken money and late nights but they had finished just in time. By enrolling engineers and mechanics at the base the officers built a rigging system that could lower an oak beam in the ceiling of Goering’s room at the small pull of a single switch in the floor. So this time the roof really

least they hoped it was. would fall. It was just past 11 when the stories began; all the officers were eagerly anticipating that one sentence, especially Officer Bauer who was positioned and ready at the switch. It was at least half an hour before Goering grew tired of his own voice and began to round up the tale. “If I’m lying, then let the…” Bauer pulled the switch, the beam dropped, stopping just above their heads. Howls of laughter broke out as the officers watched Goering’s mouth pause open. They were lucky it was Christmas and that Goering was sufficiently lubricated otherwise it could have had a very different ending. After the initial shock had faded Goering himself began to laugh but even this was tinged with displeasure. Goering exited promptly whilst the officers continued their congratulations for a further hour. This prank was a prized story amongst the Gutersloh Base but was never repeated whilst Goering was on a visit.

Top: My Auntie and Uncle at an evening function in Goerings room. Below: A selection of button sentiments including my uncles button link clip

Goering was a significant German Politician and a leading member of the Nazi Party that fell not only due to outside forces but also from within due to the German youths not unlike the fresh faced Luftwaffe officers who pranked him years before. His involvement in the Nazi Regime lead to his sentence to death by hanging at the Nuremberg trials in 1946. However before the sentence played out he committed suicide with cyanide passed on to him in a fountain pen from an impressionable guard. 50 years later my Uncle was based at RAF Gutersloh, the closest royal air force base to the East/West German border. He was a Flight Leftenant officer working in the operations tower in air traffic control. One of his key responsibilities was ensuring planes kept clear of East German air space; any stray planes or helicopters could be shot down in this area. Photographed amongst his fellow officers, Air Commodore and Squadron Leader, my Uncle is second from the right. Sporting the more casual attire of a short sleeve shirt,

which is never worn with a tie and his usual RAF blue wool trousers. This photograph is taken in the Mess, which was still known as Goering’s room. Due to the high class engineering of the rigging system the oak beam could still be lowered and on occasions was done so at the balls and dinners that were held at the base. In the second photograph is the mess decorated for a dinner, with my Auntie and Uncle enjoying the celebrations. Here my Uncle is wearing his Mess Dress, which is reserved for formal evening functions. It consists of a white Marcella shirt, waistcoat; which should always remain fastened, a bow tie, high waist trousers and single-breasted jacket with a grey lapel; which is fastened at the front by a single link of two buttons connected by a link clip. The two buttons on my Uncles link clip were of great sentimental value; he wore one from his Fathers Navy Jacket and one given to him from his friend in the US army. Forces buttons have long been given as sentiments; sweetheart jewelry started in WW1 and was sent with letters to

strengthen bonds with loved ones back home. Whilst on deployment they lacked materials and pieces were often made from inexpensive wire and trinkets easy to come by. Buttons were commonly used; attached into bracelets with wire or haphazardly soldered onto existing rings. My Auntie wears the first ball gown she made herself, in an ice blue taffeta bought on a trip home in John Lewis in Ipswich. It was boned to the knee to support the strapless neckline and kicked out into a fishtail skirt, layered with a corresponding blue netting underneath. After WW2 Germany and Berlin was divided into four sectors, each occupied by one of the allied powers; USA, France the UK and the Soviet Union, as agreed at the Potsdam, Conference from July 17 to August 2, 1945. The relationship between the Soviet Union and the other three allied powers was failing. This lead to a separation between East and West-between communism and democracy. In 1947 the UK, the USA and France joined to create the federal Republic of Germany in the West leading to the East renaming themselves the German Democratic Republic (GDR). West Germany soon set up a successful capitalist society and experienced a rapid growth of their economy. Unfortunately the opposite was materializing in the East, where they suffered from a dragging economy and restrictions to individual’s freedoms. This resulted in many from the East wanting to move to the West, over 2.5 million people made it across the border to a better economy. With the split societies Germans began to abuse advantages of either Republic, living and being educated in the East because of the lower costs and free schooling and then either moving or commuting to West Germany for jobs where they received a higher pay and a better standard of living. After losing so many of their citizens East Germany needed to contrive a way to keep their people in. So at midnight on the 12th of August 1961 a wall was built through Berlin separating the East and West. This wall ran through the middle of streets and gardens. “One man whose garden was bounded by the wall was interviewed by West German television in 1981” he told reporters “with time you get used to the wall, you’ve got to deal with it as best you can. After a while, you can even forget it’s there.” “But then there are times like an evening the previous November, when three people tried to come over the wall into his garden. Two made it but the third was shot dead.”1 The section of wall that ran along the east side of Berlin was named the ‘death zone’. In the end 293 watchtowers controlled this area, where guards were ordered to shoot to kill. “Do not hesitate to use firearms, not even for women and children”2 Even with the threat of losing your life escaping over the wall was the ambition of many German citizens.

People on both sides wanted to flee to the other, whether it was to be reunited with their family or for a better place to live. To escape successfully you would need an “escape helper” in charge. The king of the escape helpers was a man known as “Tunnel Fuchs.” “Wolfgang Fuchs was not twenty when, in August 1961, he contrived to bring out from the East his young wife, who happened to be visiting her family on the day the border was sealed”3 This was a triumph, so Fuchs decided he would support others by doing the same. He was one of the first to forge identity cards but most of his escapes were done through tunnels especially after the wall was rebuilt into a taller and wider edition. Soon there was a crack down on tunneling and Fuchs needed to devise new methods of escape. One of the best was the escape of Jürgen Kummer, for this “Fuchs & Company selected a cemetery that abutted on the berlin wall. Patient surveillance disclosed that the cemetery contained a blind spot.” “Kummer traveled several times over the course of a few weeks to visit a grave near the planned escape site” his appearance was now usual so “on the designated day, there was a ladder, and he went over” unnoticed.4 As an attempt to lessen escapes, the East and West agreed on the Passierschien (a visiting pass). It allowed West Berliners to acquire temporary passes to visit relatives in the East, for a price. Their stays in East Berlin were limited to a single day and they would need to apply for the visit at least 2 days in advance. After a while they added to the agreement; Non-Germans were also allowed to visit, again for a fee. This is how my parents and my Auntie were able to visit East Germany. Unfortunately as a member of the RAF my Uncle could not go into the sterile land, which ran along the edge of the borders, let alone cross into East Germany. If he had tried to do so he would have been considered a spy and most likely imprisoned. So on the 11th of July 1988 with my Father driving his new white Ford Orion diesel, the three drove to the border, handed over their pre-applied visit permits and were waved through to the other side. Everything seemed normal until they noticed two men in a white Sedan were tailing them. It was presumed these men were part of the Stasi; the East German secret police who were renowned for there tracking attempts. The Stasi was formed in 1950 and modeled on the Soviet MGB; the Soviet Unions intelligence agency. The landscapes were the same as on the West but once they arrived in Eisenach, the closest town to the border on the eastern side, the differences were apparent. Houses tended to look unfinished, clothes were utilitarian and shops were hard to distinguish-hidden by a barricade of blinds and

My Parents ready for and evening function at RAF Guterslogh

rarely with signs. Once parked, the White Sedan U-turned in the car park and drove away in the opposite direction; the trio then proceeded to walk around the town. Since they had been driving for over two hours they decided it was lunchtime. After a thirty-minute quest around the town they came across a busy little place down a side street. The queue was spilling out onto the pavement; they decided this was a good sign, obviously popular. So in correspondence with the locals they joined the queue. With their stomachs growling every step closer to the counter increased their anticipation. When they finally stepped up to order they where welcomed with “where’s you ticket?” This was confusing so my father asked the women to repeat herself. “Where.. is… your …ticket?” She said slowly hoping this time he would understand. My Father had been taking German lessons at home in England in preparation for the visit and was confident with his abilities. He turned to my Mother and Auntie and explained that she was asking for some sort of coupon, they both reacted by tutting and saying “if only Glynn was here”, my Uncle, who was by far the best speaker of German amongst them. After seeing the person behind in the queue ready their ticket from their pocket they finally understood. In order to eat out a ticket had to be purchased. These could be bought from a small kiosk they walked past earlier that was also obscured by a sprawling queue. The ticket permitted you to a single meal at a local establishment. The process was that you chose a café and had what they could provide, and in many cases you had what was left. They gave up on the idea of a café and apologetically left the counter; to leave they had to weave through the crammed tables allowing them to inspect what was on the plates. Soon they didn’t feel quite so disappointed. Sitting in the middle of a chipped off white bowl was a single tomato which was bathing in boiling water. A pinkish tinge could be seen in the water of the more consumed meals making it even more off-putting. This was a dish the café was presenting as tomato soup. Thankful of their mistake they set off to find their lunch somewhere else. Because of the blinds on the shops they had to take a gamble with which ones to enter, only hoping there would be food inside. On their fifth try they found it, but unfortunately the shop was rather lacking in contents. My Father scooped up the shops entire stock of orange juice, a whole four tins whilst my Mother and Auntie were trying to rifle through the bleak shelves for the ingredients for a sandwich. They walked out of the shop with a small brown bread loaf, some sort of meat spread and the tins of orange juice. The poor economy in East Germany led to food Shortages,

Birkit Kinder, initial painting 1990

Over graffiti in 2007

Birgit Kinder, restoring graffiti in Sept 1996

which became highly apparent in 1962 when the government were considering bringing back rationing from the war. This would have been a drastic economic move, designed to conserve that nation’s dwindling food supply, but it never had to be reinforced. Unfortunately citizens still had to suffer the food shortages for decades. “It was not uncommon for bakeries to close at midday or for a butchers to be sold out of sausages before the end of the queue.”5 Whilst tucking into their hastily made sandwiches they made their way slowly back to the car. On the journey back my Father bought a new lens for is Cosina CSM camera. One of his favorite possessions and a much-used item on his visit to Eastern Germany. It was a large optomax lens with auto zoom; he had been pricing these up whilst in western Germany and was shocked to find it cheaper in the East. It was common that Western Germans would obtain passes and travel across the border to buy products such as the camera lens and glass wear for the cheaper price tag, especially in Berlin where you could simply walk through. Back at the car they were welcomed by a crowd, it seemed my Fathers Orion was the talk of the town. People took pictures whilst men leant in to take a closer look. It was so rare that they would ever see a foreign number plate over the Eastern border especially a UK one. But it was even rarer to find a Ford Orion. European or American cars were too expensive and too hard to find, the Trabant ruled these roads. The Trabant was the most common vehicle in East Germany; it was marketed as the perfect family car, “big enough for 4 adults and luggage” (as though the East Germans had the freedom to travel). It was often referred to as the cardboard car because of its light and unreliable structure. But despite its poor performance and smoky two-stroke engine the car was regarded with affection, as a symbol of the more positive sides of East Germany. Sales were high and factories were greatly respected by the government. The Trabant even became popularized over the border but mainly for the prosperity of it, Europe saw them as a collector’s item. As the reputation grew, a waiting list developed, people who finally got one were very careful with it and usually became skillful in maintaining and repairing it the average lifespan of the Trabant was an abundant 28 years. The Trabant as an icon of the East was a well-featured image amongst the commemorative graffiti along both sides of the Berlin Wall. The Graffiti work depicts a Trabant crashing through the wall, representing the gained freedom of East German citizens. The number plate is the date the wall became redundant as a barrier, when they declared citizens were free to cross the border. Birgit Kinder is this artist of this image; it has been an ongoing project of hers since 1990,

when it was first painted. The image has been restored over five times, most recently in 2009 when it was also accompanied by a plaque recognizing it as a landmark of the city. Graffiti on the wall began in 1976 when the Honecker government decided to refurbish the wall; and the original roughcast concrete was gradually replaced with smooth concrete slabs. The smooth surface provided a perfect surface for graffitists. “Before long, virtually every square inch of the western side of the wall was covered with drawings.”6 But the Eastern side remained pristine cement-white. The paintings became an important symbol of Berlin’s charm and attracted tourists to the wall. The contrast between the freely decorated West side of the Wall against the sterile East, illustrates the cultural divide between the Republics throughout the years of the wall. With Western Germany being partly occupied by the USA and thriving as a capitalist society it soon became influenced by the current trends of America. “West Germany experienced an unprecedented influx of American goods, from nylon stockings to popular music.”7 Before the wall was built the Eastern German youth would cross the border to buy their Creepers, jeans, leather jackets and hit records. Anything to replicate their idols such as James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause” and Marlon Brando in “The Wild One”; who they could catch a glimpse of on their organized trips to the cinema. After 1961, with the Wall as a barrier, the Eastern youth were cut off from there American fix. Unless you lived in Berlin and were close enough to the border to tune into the Western radio stations, and sneak a listen. This method of stealing the West German signal was also used for peoples “nightly Emigration” when East Germans could watch Western news and TV. Being able to see the society they wanted but couldn’t have led to the jealousy that ran the East Germans ambition to rid of the Wall. 1989 was the turning point for the war on the Wall. With East Germans wanting out it came as great news that on May 2nd the Grosz regime decided to open Hungary’s border with (neutral) Austria. This gave several hundred East Germans the chance to travel to Hungary (as vacationers) and cross over into Austria for freedom. Unfortunately after the initial surge the government caught on and over 500 others, were sent home with a stamp on their passports indicating that they had attempted to flee.8 After this pushback East German refugees then turned their sights on embassies, taking physical refuge on West German diplomatic property. Initially in Budapest but it soon spread to the embassies in Prague, Warsaw and East Berlin itself. Hundreds settled in rain-soaked camps hoping for sympa-

thetic attention. In August there had been rumors that the Hungarian government would give asylum; but these was put down when Istvan Horvath, the Hungarian interior minister announced that they would not permit the passage of refugees until East and West Germany came to an agreement. After 6 weeks with the refugee camp maintaining the Hungarian government gave up; it had become “unbearable”. East Germans within Hungarian territory where permitted to proceed to a country of their choice. This news then followed in Prague where “freedom trains” carried the refugees to West Germany. Meanwhile in East Germany the “New Forum” was coming together, a group of East German citizens who were against the wall. This group grew with every meeting they held, and the meetings soon built up into full-scale marches with banners and chanting. Throughout this summer Honecker, the GDR leader grew ill and began to struggle with his position resulting in a new East German leader; Egon Krenz. Both had been part of the Free German Youth (FDJ) a group for 14-25 year olds similar to the British Scouts or Girl guides but with a much stronger political underpinning. It was the East German youth in opposition to FDJ who were now running the protests against the GDR government. With the citizens putting exhausting pressure upon Krenz at about 9pm on Thursday the 9th of November 1989 it was announced “permanent emigration is henceforth allowed across all border crossing points between East Germany and West Germany and West Berlin.” Once again it was the Youths leading the movement for change in Germany. The new generation which wouldn’t stand for what had been acceptable before. Immediately people had to test this statement and by midnight a party had broken out along the Berlin wall. East and West Germans popped champagne corks and danced upon the wall. The Iron curtain had fallen.



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7 - Uta G. Poiger, 2000. Jazz, Rock, and Rebels: Cold War Politics and American Culture in a Divided Germany (Studies on the History of Society and Culture). 1 Edition. University of California Press.


8 - William F Buckley Jr., 2004. The Fall of the Berlin Wall. 1 Edi-

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Objects in context  

A history of Germany and the Berlin Wall