National Geographic : 1970 Jan
National Geographic, January 1970 the office of the man who is in charge of liai son between the camp and the city of Berlin. He asked that his name not be used. "Neither my name nor that of any of the refugees. "Yes," he said in answer to my question, "people still risk their lives to come over the Wall, but not so many. Only a few score are able to make it now each year. You have seen the improved Wall-it is like Alcatraz or Devil's Island. "In all, we get about 3,000 escapers a year from all over, and have an average of about 300 in residence here, month in and month out. We have 60 apartments in three large buildings. After a time here they go on by air to the West." Escapers Employ Amazing Tactics The official told me about some of the more famous escapes across the Wall. "There was the circus performer," he remi nisced, "who, with help from a relative on the western side of the Wall, simply strung a tight rope and walked over on it. Another man had a friend in West Berlin who ran one of those earth-moving shovels. This friend drove his machine up to the Wall and dropped its big bucket over on the east side. The refugee jumped in, the shovel was clamped shut, and he swung to safety as a hail of bullets pinged harmlessly off the steel sides." "What do most refugees want when they arrive?" "Right now, it's bananas. We had a lad who came over about a month ago. He almost did not make it-across the death strip and up the Wall, where he hit one of those cylin ders that has been installed to roll at a touch. They call that route the Todeslauf, or death run. His brother was waiting for him and pulled him over. He wanted bananas, and when he got here, he sat down and ate seven of them." Over the years, 64 East Germans are known to have died trying to flee over the Wall. The rules of movement between East and West are a crazy patchwork. Any Western soldier-American, British, or French-may walk in and out of East Berlin without hin drance, search, or seizure, just as any Russian soldier may freely enter West Berlin. But an East Berlin citizen may not leave his side of the city, and except for air travel a West Ber liner can leave only by passing through the territory, and the red tape, of the German Democratic Republic. When the GDR or the Soviets find it convenient, they can isolate all 2,163,000 West Berliners in a matter of min utes. That is why assurances from the West are so important. "Right out there," said Klaus Schiitz, the Mayor of West Berlin (preceding page), "is where John F. Kennedy made his famous 'Ich bin ein Berliner' speech." He motioned toward the balcony of his second-floor office in Schoneberg Town Hall, overlooking the town-hall square. Today, a Friday, was market day, and the area below the balcony was crowded with farmers and trucks. Their farms, surprisingly, lie within the borders of West Berlin itself, mostly on the northwestern outskirts of the city. Housewives strolled past the stands, buying fruits and flowers, fresh eggs, cheeses, and newly plucked fat chickens. Berliners Remember J.F.K. and His Vow When President Kennedy made his "I am a Berliner" speech on June 26, 1963, the square was jammed with cheering West Berliners. It was a memorable and dramatic moment, a vivid reassurance that the West had not for gotten them. Nor have the Berliners forgotten the man who gave it: The square is now named the John-F.-Kennedy-Platz. "It is natural that we sometimes feel for gotten," said Mayor Schiitz. "The Wall has increased our sense of isolation. For many, the constant inconvenience and harassment connected with road travel, and the limited amount of space to move about in, make it more comfortable to leave than to stay. The young especially have been leaving, even Welcome sight to all he passes: Touching, or even seeing, a chimney sweep assures good luck, says an old German superstition. West Berlin sweep Peter Poetzsch prefers safe, hard headgear to the traditional top hat of his trade. In his unionized and difficult job, he earns slightly more than the average wage of $200 a month. To aid his isolated city, West Germany sends in preferential government orders for goods and subsidizes industries and citizens to the equivalent of almost a billion dollars a year. KODACHROME © N.G.S.