Berlin border crossings

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Checkpoint Charlie, Friedrichstraße, Berlin: Replica of the old western border post.

The Berlin border crossings were created as a result of the postwar division of Germany. Prior to the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961, travel between the Eastern and Western sectors of Berlin was totally uncontrolled, although restrictions were increasingly introduced by the Soviet and East German authorities at major crossings between the sectors. This free access, especially after the closure of the Inner German border, allowed the Eastern Bloc emigration and defection to occur which resulted in the erection of the Berlin Wall.

After the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961, border stations between East Berlin, regarded as its capital by the German Democratic Republic but unrecognized by the Western Allies, and the sectors controlled by those three Western Allies were created. Although there were few crossings at first, more sites were built to an increasing extent over the wall's lifespan. Many crossed the wall illegally, climbing over it, sailing around it, or digging under it, while many others died while attempting to cross.

Border control procedures[edit]

Between West Berlin and German Democratic Republic territory, the border stations were developed very effectively on the GDR's side. (The official designation for controlled border traffic was Grenzübergangsstelle, GÜSt: border crossing site.) Border officials and customs agents would monitor incoming and outgoing traffic according to established procedures, at times with the utmost scrutiny. A strict division of labor among the various organizations was the rule. The security of the outward-facing border and of the border crossings was maintained by special security divisions of the GDR border guard troops (German abbreviation SiK, short for Sicherungskompanien). On May 26, 1952 the East German government decided to close the border and to build up a frontier area between East and West Germany and between West Berlin and East Germany. After May 26, 1952 there was only one quite safe way to escape to the West: Berlin. Although many border crossing points were closed in Berlin and controls at the border happened, it was quite easy to leave the Eastern sector of Berlin to the Western sector. Many East German citizen went to Berlin, bought a S-Bahn (suburban train) or U-Bahn (subway) ticket and left East Berlin.

Citation[edit]

The actual inspections of vehicle and pedestrian traffic were carried out by the passport control units (German abbreviation PKE, short for Passkontrolleinheiten). The PKE units were not under the command of the GDR border guard troops and thereby the Ministry of Defense, but the Ministry for State Security (Division VI / Department 6, Passport Control). While on duty at the border stations, however, the PKE would wear the same uniforms as the border guard troops. For personal inspections, highly qualified and specially trained forces were used exclusively. The passports, identification cards, etc., could be transmitted from the inspection sites to a processing center using closed-circuit television and ultraviolet light, where they were recorded. From there, commands were issued using a numeric display to the passport control unit, for example "flip page", "request additional documentation", "delay processing", ask predefined questions, etc.

On the West Berlin side, police and customs agents were stationed. No personal inspections usually took place there.

  • At the transit crossings (sites for traffic passing into the GDR en route to another country), statistical demographic data about travelers would be recorded (travel destination, etc.), and travelers would occasionally be inspected, when appropriate, for the purpose of criminal investigations (police "dragnets").
  • Freight traffic bound for other countries was subject to customs processing. Shipping to the Federal Republic of Germany was only subject to statistical record-keeping and, under certain circumstances, sealing of the cargo.
  • At Checkpoint Bravo (Dreilinden) and Checkpoint Charlie (Friedrichstraße), the Allied occupation forces had established checkpoints, but they were not relevant to regular personal and business traffic. They served as processing stations for military units as well as a display of military presence. Their designated authority to perform further inspections was utilized only in extremely rare cases.
  • Signs directed travelers passing through the GDR to report any suspicious events that might have occurred during their transit; by these means, information was to be gathered regarding, for example, the arrest of West German citizens.

Who could cross[edit]

Visa for travel into East Germany with corresponding stamps at the Inner German border and West Berlin border.

West Germans and citizens of other Western countries could in general visit East Germany. Usually this involved application of a visa at an East German embassy several weeks in advance. Visas for day trips restricted to East Berlin were issued without previous application in a simplified procedure at the border crossing. However, East German authorities could refuse entry permits without stating a reason. In the 1980s, visitors from the western part of the city who wanted to visit the eastern part had to exchange at least DM 25 into East German currency at the poor exchange rate of 1:1. It was forbidden to export East German currency out of the East, but money not spent could be left at the border for possible future visits. Tourists crossing from the west had to also pay for a visa, which cost DM 5; West Berliners did not have to pay this.

West Berliners initially could not visit East Berlin or East Germany at all. All crossing points were closed to them between 26 August 1961 and 17 December 1963. In 1963, negotiations between East and West resulted in a limited possibility for visits during the Christmas season that year (Passierscheinregelung). Similar very limited arrangements were made in 1964, 1965 and 1966. In 1971, with the Four Power Agreement on Berlin, agreements were reached that allowed West Berliners to apply for visas to enter East Berlin and East Germany regularly, comparable to the regulations already in force for West Germans. However, East German authorities could still refuse entry permits.

East Berliners and East Germans could at first not travel to West Berlin or West Germany at all. This regulation remained in force essentially until the fall of the wall, but over the years several exceptions to these rules were introduced, the most significant being:

  • Old age pensioners could travel to the West starting in 1964
  • Visits of relatives for important family matters
  • People who had to travel to the West for professional reasons (e.g. artists, truck drivers etc.)

However, each visit had to be applied for individually and approval was never guaranteed. In addition, even if travel was approved, GDR travelers could exchange only a very small amount of East German Marks into Deutsche Marks (DM), thus limiting the financial resources available for them to travel to the West. This led to the West German practice of granting a small amount of DM annually (Begrüßungsgeld, or welcome money) to GDR citizens visiting West Germany and West Berlin, to help alleviate this situation.

Citizens of other East European countries except Yugoslavia were in general subject to the same prohibition on visiting Western countries as East Germans, though the applicable exception (if any) varied from country to country. Citizens of Hungary could freely cross into West Berlin from January 1, 1988.

Border crossings up to 1990[edit]

Map showing the Berlin border and its crossing points.

West Berlin - East Berlin[edit]

There were several border crossings between East and West Berlin:

In addition, entirely located in East Berlin (reached by streetcar, underground, or railroad):

  • Friedrichstraße station (opened 1961)
    • For West Berliners, citizens of the Federal Republic, foreigners, diplomats, transit travelers and GDR citizens (rail/pedestrian)

West Berlin - GDR[edit]

  • Glienicke Bridge over the Havel from Berlin-Wannsee to Potsdam
    • Open to general traffic until 1952.
    • From 1952 on, open only for access by the western Allied Military Liaison Missions. Civilians with special permission were later allowed to cross the bridge on foot.
    • From 1953-07-03 on, the bridge was closed as one of the last routes connecting Berlin with the surrounding area for civilian traffic.
    • It became well known in particular because three exchanges of captured agents took place there between the American and Soviet superpowers.
  • Lichtenrade/Mahlow (Federal Road 96), only for garbage trucks of the Berlin sanitation department and automobiles on service trips from West Berlin to the dump in Schöneiche.
  • Waltersdorf Chaussee/Rudow Chaussee, besides its function for transit to and from the Berlin-Schönefeld airport, was also opened for passage of West Berliners into the GDR. The crossing was little known, as only its transit function was mentioned in guidebooks.
  • In Kohlhasenbrück, for access to the Steinstücken exclave, and only for the use of its residents. This crossing was abolished after the 1971 territorial exchange, when East Germany ceded the interjacent tract of land to West Berlin.
  • Bürgerablage Beach, for access to the exclaves Erlengrund and Fichtewiese, two allotment clubs, only for use by allotmentiers there. The crossing was abolished after the 1988 territorial exchange, when East Germany ceded two tracts of interjacent land to West Berlin.

Crossings for transit traffic[edit]

East German guards checking cars at the Checkpoint Drewitz, the GDR side of Checkpoint Dreilinden/Checkpoint Bravo in 1972
Road crossings[edit]

These crossings could be used for passage on the prescribed transit highways and for travel within the SOZ/GDR:

Rail crossings[edit]
West German trains ran through East Germany. This 1977 view shows how barriers were made near the tracks to keep people away.
Waterways[edit]

The numerous border crossings on waterways (e.g., Spree, Havel, Teltow Canal) were only open to commercial freight traffic. Recreational boats had to be loaded onto ships or towed overland.

Air travel[edit]

To and from Berlin-Schönefeld Airport for air travel:

  • Waltersdorfer Chaussee/Rudower Chaussee (transfer bus to and from West Berlin)

also, within East Berlin territory (access via streetcar, U-bahn or rail):

At the Berlin-Tempelhof and Berlin-Tegel airports there were border crossings manned by West Berlin police and customs. These were not located in territory controlled by the GDR. In addition to processing for international air travel, the personal documents of travelers between West Berlin and the Federal Republic were inspected.

Miscellaneous crossings[edit]

The various illegal or unofficial border crossings are not reliably documented:

  • those constructed between the East and West by refugees and those who assisted them, mostly underground. Many of these were discovered and destroyed.
  • those constructed by, e.g., the Ministry for State Security and other clandestine organizations, in order to transfer people unobserved between East and West.

Changes in 1989 and 1990[edit]

The Brandenburg Gate with its two crossing checkpoints. The southern checkpoint (background in picture) is for those entering East Berlin while those exiting East Berlin go though the northern checkpoint (foreground in picture).

In the time between the fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989 and the abolition of all border controls on 1 July 1990, numerous additional border crossings were built for interim use. Because of their symbolic value, the most famous of these were Glienicke Bridge, Bernauer Straße, Potsdamer Platz, and the Brandenburg Gate.

The opening of the Brandenburg Gate was merely a public-relations formality which took place on 22 December 1989 at the request of then-Chancellor Helmut Kohl. Hundreds of television crews from all over the world had anticipated this historic event for weeks.

Eberswalder Straße crossing being created on 11 November 1989, two days after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

West Germans and West Berliners were allowed visa-free travel to the East Berlin and East Germany starting 23 December 1989. Until then, they could only visit under restrictive conditions that involved application for a visa several days or weeks in advance and obligatory exchange of at least 25 DM per day of their planned stay. Thus, in the weeks between 9 November 1989 and 23 December 1989, East Germans could travel more freely than Westerners as they were able to cross into West Berlin with just passport checks.

There are also roads that are reopened between 12 June 1990 and 21 June 1990 with or without border controls.

The controls were abandoned on 1 July 1990, the day of the currency union and before the actual reunification of Germany on 3 October 1990. In the months after the fall of the Wall, border crossings between the East and the West had become more and more irrelevant.

Today, a few portions of the structures have been retained as a memorial.

A chronological list of Berlin border crossings opened until 30 June 1990
No Date Time Location Areas linked Notes
1 10 November 1989 08:00 Kirchhainer Damm Mahlow/Berlin-Lichtenrade (F 96/B 96) Already in use for sanitation trucks, was opened to private citizens
2 18:00 Glienicke Bridge Potsdam/Berlin-Wannsee Already in use for Allied personnel, was opened to private citizens
3 11 November 1989 08:00 Eberswalder Straße/Bernauer Straße Prenzlauer Berg/Berlin-Wedding
4 Jannowitzbrücke subway station Berlin-Mitte/Subway line U8 Previously a ghost station
5 13:00 Puschkinallee/Schlesische Straße Treptow/Berlin-Kreuzberg
6 12 November 1989 08:00 Potsdamer Platz Berlin-Mitte/Tiergarten
7 13 November 1989 08:00 Wollankstraße Pankow/Berlin-Wedding
8 18:00 Falkenseer Chaussee Falkensee/Berlin-Spandau
9 14 November 1989 08:00 Philipp-Müller-Allee /Ostpreußendamm Teltow/Berlin-Lichterfelde
10 Stubenrauchstraße - Massantebrücke Berlin-Johannisthal/Berlin-Rudow
11 11 December 1989 Karl-Marx-Straße/Benschallee Kleinmachnow/Berlin-Nikolassee-Düppel
12 22 December 1989 Rosenthaler Platz subway station Berlin-Mitte/Subway line U8 Previously a ghost station
13 Brandenburg Gate Berlin-Mitte/Tiergarten
14 3 January 1990 Karl-Marx-Straße/Buckower Damm Groß Ziethen/Berlin-Buckow
15 13 January 1990 Ruppiner Chaussee Hennigsdorf-Stolpe Süd/Berlin-Heiligensee-Schulzendorf
16 22 January 1990 Griebnitzsee station Was already in use as a transit crossing, then was opened for the newly inaugurated commuter train Potsdam-Wannsee
17 30 January 1990 Potsdamer Chaussee Groß-Glienicke/Berlin-Kladow-Groß Glienicke
18 17 February 1990 Berliner Straße/Oranienburger Chaussee (F 96/B 96) Hohen-Neuendorf/Frohnau
19 3 March 1990 Oranienburger Chaussee/Berliner Straße (through "Entenschnabel" F 96/B 96) Glienicke-Nordbahn/Hermsdorf (Berlin)
20 17 March 1990 Rudolf-Breitscheid-Straße/Neue Kreisstraße Potsdam-Babelsberg/Berlin-Wannsee-Kohlhasenbrück
21 Böttcherberg Potsdam-Klein-Glienicke/Berlin-Wannsee
22 23 March 1990 Lindenstraße Berlin-Mitte/Berlin-Kreuzberg
23 31 March 1990 Zehlendorfer Damm/Machnower Straße Kleinmachnow/Berlin-Zehlendorf
24 6 April 1990 Lichtenrader Straße/Groß Ziethener Straße Groß Ziethen/Berlin-Lichtenrade
25 Arcostraße/Beethovenstraße Mahlow/Berlin-Lichtenrade
26 7 April 1990 Brunnenstraße Berlin-Mitte/Berlin-Wedding
27 Kopenhagener Straße Berlin-Niederschönhausen-Wilhelmsruh/Berlin-Reinickendorf
28 12 April 1990 Schilling Bridge/Köpenicker Straße Berlin-Mitte/Berlin-Kreuzberg
29 Elsenstraße Treptow/Berlin-Neukölln
30 Bernauer Straße subway station Berlin-Mitte/Berlin-Wedding Previously a ghost station, it was opened without border controls, with direct access to West Berlin
31 Rudower Chaussee/Groß-Ziethener Chaussee Groß Ziethen/Berlin-Rudow
32 27 May 1990 Torweg Staaken-West/Berlin-Staaken
33 8 June 1990 Dammweg Berlin-Baumschulenweg/Berlin-Neukölln
34 11 June 1990 Behmstraßen Bridge Prenzlauer Berg/Berlin-Wedding
35 17 June 1990 Wilhelmsruher Damm Berlin-Rosenthal/Berlin-Wittenau-Märkisches Viertel
36 23 June 1990 Berliner Allee/Schönwalder Allee Schönwalde/Berlin-Spandau
37 Knesebeck Bridge Teltow/Berlin-Zehlendorf-Schönow
38 30 June 1990 Großbeeren-Heinersdorf/Marienfelder Allee (F 100/B 101) Berlin-Marienfelde

Remaining border controls[edit]

Today the only remaining border crossings in Berlin are located at Tegel and Schönefeld airports (Schönefeld located outside Berlin city limits) and all Cold War-specific border control procedures have disappeared altogether. They are staffed by German Federal Police and Customs for normal international traffic screening purposes.

Bibliography[edit]

Hans-Dieter Behrendt: Im Schatten der "Agentenbrücke" (In the shadow of the "Agents' Bridge"), 260 pages, GNN Verlag, ISBN 3-89819-140-0 (German)

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

(German)

Gallery[edit]

Berlin border crossings[edit]

Crossings after the fall of the Berlin Wall[edit]

Newly opened crossings after the fall of the Wall[edit]

Border crossings stamps[edit]

References[edit]

This article incorporates information from the German Wikipedia.