Signs mounted along the path through the former no man’s land along Bernauer Strasse. When the wall first went up in 1961, it began as concrete blocks topped with barbed wire. Neighbors could still call out to one another over the wall. Here you can see them standing on ladders or climbing on street poles. The provisional nature of the wall gradually gave way to standardized system that was effective and deadly.
When I began photographing the wall in 1985, it seemed that it was forever. But I had my doubts. It wasn’t that I could see obvious changes on the borderline, but having traveled to the east side a number of times, I came to realize that East Germany — indeed the whole communist/soviet project was held together with brutal force and an inordinate amount of duct tape and chewing gum. I couldn’t understand why the American government couldn’t see that as well. And above all, as the 80s wore on, the push back from citizens of the East — from to shipbuilders of Poland to the students in East Berlin’s Prenzlauerberg (where this photo was taken) became more and more intense.
Nevertheless, in 1987 the New York Times editorial page insisted that the division of Germany was just “a part of the furniture” of the global balance of power. I took issue with that, and my letter to the editor was published with a wonderful accompanying cartoon from the illustrator Suter.
The wall came down two years later.