Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin
Contrary to popular belief, the border between East and West Berlin did not run directly along the western face of the Berlin Wall. In fact, the westernmost edge of the Wall was built entirely inside DDR territory 1.98 m away from the official border.
The reasoning was simple: by constructing the wall inside the Soviet sector, the DDR authorities made it impossible for the Western Allies to remove it. Any attempts to take down the wall would have involved moving Western forces into Soviet territory and thus been considered a declaration of war. In practical terms, however, the two metre strip between the wall and the west led to a curious arrangement between East and West on several Berlin streets.
For instance, in theory, the people who lived on the southern side of Sebastianstraße in Kreuzberg left West Berlin as soon as they stepped out of their buildings – the Wall stood along the length of the street. In order to avoid unnecessary problems, however, the pavement in front of those buildings was leased by West Berlin from their East German ‘colleagues’.
The arrangement also led to several unlucky DDR escapees being captured even after they had made it to the other side of the Wall – unless they were standing two metres from it, they had not yet left East Germany. Something most of them did not realise. Neither did they know that the Wall had secret openings used to deal with miscreants from both sides of the divide.
For even though the Berlin Wall enjoyed a reputation for being impermeable, in reality it was equipped with small hidden doors which allowed East German guards to get to the other side quickly and do so with an element of surprise.
The doors were used by border patrols tasked with removing graffiti from the West Berlin face of the Wall; this often happened before important state visits in West Berlin – if the graffiti was not erased or painted over, it might have attracted the attention of western television stations.
However, these doors also played a far more sinister role: they enabled East German guards or secret police to capture anyone who came too close to the Wall and, unwittingly, found themselves in East German territory. Some of the miscreants who used graffiti to share their political views worked in the naïve belief that they were safe in the West; in reality they had already crossed to the other side and become easy prey for those who wished to see them punished. No-one knows how many East and West Berliners were captured this way.
(This story was originally published as two texts in “Notmsparker’s Berlin Companion” available at berlinarium.bigcartel.com).