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3 years ago
Tales of a twisted cross
Tales of a twisted cross

Destination = The Berlin Wall, Bernauer Strasse, Mitte, Germany -

From my Mitte hotel I wander towards Nordbanhof and along Bernauer Strasse, a onetime frontier street on the Cold War border between East and West.

I climb a viewing platform and gaze across to a reconstructed guard tower from another time, and a strip of green lawn, once a no-mans'-land squeezed between 2-walls and barbed wire. This is what's left of `The Wall'- a renovated portion ot the `real' wall, barb wire and a death-strip, no-go area to dissuade anyone contemplating escape to the West. Approximately 1000 graves were exhumed and relocated from here.  

The story begins in 1945 at the end of desperate WW2 street fighting. 

Bernauer Strasse pre-empts the coming of yet another war - a `colder' war. This street follows the front of buildings on the East Berlin Soviet side. Barriers are erected and many residents spontaneously flee. The West Berlin Fire Department hold rescue nets at street level, as East Berliners slide down ropes. Some jump, with many hurt. The first Cold War fatalities occur. 

The buildings are evacuated after The Wall is erected, anyone left forced to resettle elsewhere, windows and doors bricked up. The population continue to rebel against the new barriers. There are protests and escape tunnels dug.

I walk further along, to the The Window of Remembrance: a montage of faces of those that died and were buried in this death strip no-man's-land. There are 138,  their names, birth and death dates, each victim individually commemorated here; all having died at The Wall by accident while trying to escape, or shot dead. 

And there was once a church here, an imposing building having survived WW2 but in 1945 finding itself in the Soviet Sector. With the Berlin Wall built in 1961, it ran directly in front of the church on its western French side, but behind it on the eastern Soviet side. The church was left within what was an almost inaccessible death strip, with most of its Parish in the neighbouring French Sector. Soviet guards used the tall church as a vantage point. Attempted escapes from East to West were rewarded with the order "shoot on sight".

From the grass, I walk to a wooden monument. The initial church foundations all that's left now, the church having been fitted with explosives, blown apart and demolished in 1985 by the East Germans, `to increase the security, order and cleanliness on the state border with West Berlin’. The cross that had stood at the top of the steeple was gone.

Only 4yrs later the first section of The Wall fell on the night of November 10, 1989, pieces knocked down between Bernauer and Eberswalder Strasse to create a new crossing between East and West Berlin. 

The official overall demolition began in June 1990, with the Berlin Wall Memorial placed here. A wooden structure is the new chapel built over the foundations of the sanctuary of the previously destroyed church; oval-shaped, rammed-earth, the inner room encircled by vertical wooden columns with gaps to allow light. The core of the chapel is orientated eastwards.

But it's the original church cross that brings me here; the very cross that once stood at the top of the 1894 neo-Gothic steeple, then somehow disappeared. 

The great cross now sits on this concrete slab out front of the wooden chapel monument - its form twisted, rusted and contorted - having broken off the spire with the impact of the explosion and being subsequently hurled to the ground and quickly hidden by East German cemetery workers until The Wall finally came down 5yrs later.  

Photo: The Twisted Cross - Chapel of Reconciliation, Mitte, Berlin, Germany _ Ian Cochrane