Dagmar Simdorn, an 81 year-old East German pensioner who lives at Acker Strasse, is pictured in her apartment near the Berlin Wall memorial in Berlin, Germany, October 22, 2019. (Reuters)
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BERLIN – Dagmar Simdorn had been to visit her husband’s grave when she walked out of the cemetery and looked along her street towards the austere Berlin Wall checkpoint at Bernauer Strasse.
There was an opening.
Walking the short distance along the street in East Berlin, she could see the Wall had not been completely torn down, but there were ways through. So she peered into the West.
“You could look up the Bernauer Strasse and had a free view of everything. It was like Alice in Wonderland,” recalled Simdorn, now 81, who grew up during World War Two and then lived in Communist East Germany on the front line of the Cold War.
The Berlin Wall – erected in 1961 – ran along Bernauer Strasse, which became famous for escapes from apartment block windows and through tunnels underneath it. Ten people are also known to have died trying to escape the area.
The Wall came down 30 years ago, on November 9, and Simdorn remembered looking into West Berlin at the time: “You just stood there with an open mouth and your hand in front of it ... I thought of my late husband - how nice it would have been for him to experience that.”
“The feeling was as if you were soaring, really,” she said, tearing up. “You felt like you were floating.”
Just a stone’s throw away in the west, Angelika Bondick’s experience of the Wall and its fall was more humdrum.
Her former husband used to raise his beer to the guards in the Bernauer Strasse watchtower above the “death strip”, and she occasionally waved at them from their flat on the same street.
“They watched us and we watched them now and then,” Bondick, now aged 63, told Reuters from her balcony, the old watchtower still standing behind her.
Did she not feel threatened, living on the front line of the Cold War – perhaps during the Cuban Missile Crisis?
“For me, what counted was just getting on with life, my family. Whether there was war in Cuba didn’t interest me so much,” she said.
When the Wall fell, she was asleep or busy with her children - she can’t quite remember - and initially missed it. In any case, she had often visited East Berlin to see family. The Wall had simply been a given.
“I grew up with it, and didn’t question it,” she said.
In the days after it fell, easterners formed long queues to buy fruit in the supermarket where she worked, a job she still does. Tourists flocked outside her flat to see the remains of the Wall.
Once the Wall area was cleared away, there was one major advantage: “The border strip area was free for our dogs and we could let them run around. That was really nice for the dog owners. So the border strip was positive in the end.” (Reuters)