Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

Letter from Europe

  • — Issue 2007/19 posted by hidden europe on

Fifty-five years ago today, Lichterfelde was very much in the news on account of the fate of Walter Linse, a local lawyer who was kidnapped at his front gate - destination Moscow. Linse had made a reputation for himself in exposing abuses of the law in the German Democratic Republic (GDR).

article summary —

Dear fellow travellers

History is such a fleeting thing. How easily even the recent past gets lost in dusty archives. hidden europe is published in one of Berlin's leafy southern suburbs. We would be the first to admit that these sedate streets are not in a part of town where anything very exciting often happens. The suburb of Lichterfelde can claim an interesting association with the aviation pioneer, Otto Lilienthal, who conducted many of his early flying experiments on a man-made hill just a stone's throw from where we live and write. But fifty-five years ago today, Lichterfelde was very much in the news on account of the fate of Walter Linse, a local lawyer who was kidnapped at his front gate - destination Moscow. Linse had made a reputation for himself in exposing abuses of the law in the German Democratic Republic (GDR).

On 8 July 1952, Walter Linse left home as usual at twenty past seven in the morning. As he stepped into the street, he was apprehended by GDR agents and bundled into a waiting car. Within ten minutes, he had been whisked over the border from Lichterfelde (in West Berlin) to neighbouring Teltow (in the GDR). Just four kilometres away but in those days another world. Linse's abduction prompted local protests and an international outcry. The United States occupation force in this part of Berlin responded by barring all traffic at the Lichterfelde to Teltow local border crossing. It remained closed to vehicles until 14 November 1989, five days after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Walter Linse was held initially in East Berlin, and later moved to Moscow, where he was imprisoned. Linse was executed on 15 December 1953. The road where he lived in Lichterfelde has now been renamed in his memory. Nowadays, it is strange to recall that our own back yard was once the venue for one of the most extraordinary episodes in the Cold War.

end of the border (Berlin)

Living so close to the old border gave Lichterfelde residents an interesting perspective on events running up to German unification. The weekend of 30 June / 1 July 1990 was one to remember. In the six months after the fall of the Berlin Wall, folk in Lichterfelde and the neighbouring West Berlin suburb of Zehlendorf had become well used to driving over to the GDR communities of Teltow and Kleinmachnow on the other side of the crumbling divide. Of course there were checkpoints, but by late June 1990 checks on documents had become very desultory.

Saturday 30 June was the last day on which the checkpoints were ever used. It was a coolish day for mid-summer with lots of threatening clouds. By late afternoon, trestle tables and chairs had been set up beside the road over to Kleinmachnow, and there were sausages aplenty being grilled and lots of beer as the one-time stern guards of the GDR marked the demise of the old checkpoint. They were joined by their families and by local residents from both sides of the border. For many of those officials it was the last day on which they ever wore their uniforms. No-one bothered checking any documents that Saturday evening; a single sheet of paper was stuck to the window of the cabin where once we had to show our passports. "Tschüss, DDR!" said the sign. "Goodbye DDR."

On the next morning, a Sunday, the banks in both Teltow and Kleinmachnow were open. Very unusual for a Sunday. The border guards and their families were queuing early to be the first to get their hands on West German marks. For at midnight, as the border barriers were raised for the very last time, the old East German mark was consigned to numismatic history.

This article was published in Letter from Europe.

About The Authors

hidden europe

and Susanne Kries manage hidden europe, a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine. Nicky and Susanne are dedicated slow travellers. They delight in discovering the exotic in the everyday.