Close to home

This may look like a typical path through the woods, but it’s actually where part of the Berlin Wall was located until 1989. To the left is West Berlin, while to the right is Kleinmachnow, where I now live. Strangely peaceful today, it was once the site of a high concrete wall, barbed-wire fences, floodlights and armed guards, and was nearly impossible to surmount. It’s hard to find any traces of all this now, and the path is usually full of walkers, dog-lovers and bicyclists. I was walking home from a nearby S-Bahn station when it occurred to me just how historic this place is. I walk along it all the time, usually forgetting that 30+ years ago I would have either been shot or bundled off to a very unpleasant prison for being here.

Emerging from the woods, I pass the old “An der Stammbahn” street sign that is slowly being bent out of shape by a healthy birch tree. The name of the street refers to the railroad line that ran along here from Berlin to Potsdam from 1838 up until the end of WWII, when it was destroyed. It was the first railway line ever built in Prussia, and allowed passengers to travel at a “breathtaking” 30 kmh. The sign was put up at a time when this side of the street was a Sperrzone, a restricted zone. This area was off limits to anyone but the people who lived in the houses on the north side of the street. The border guards patrolled along here, preventing anyone without a permit from entering, and when they wanted, they had unlimited access to the houses, day or night.

The street is now full of a mixture of new and old houses, and is a normal, quiet suburban street that makes it easy to forget about its turbulent past. The wall ran just behind the houses on the left.

The political party Die Grünen (the Greens) are the sixth largest party in the Bundestag, the German parliament. They are well-represented in Kleinmachnow, no doubt due to the town’s well-educated, well-heeled residents. This poster, put up as part of preparations for the upcoming European Parliament election in May, says “Europe, the best idea that Europe ever had”, which is something I completely agree with. I can’t vote here, because I’m not German, but if I could, I would vote for the Greens.

Shortly before getting to my street, I pass by my favorite house. A friend of mine’s mother lived in the second-floor apartment here until Alzheimers got the best of her and she was forced to move out. On the other side of the street is a peaceful little cemetery, with signs asking visitors to make sure they close the gates when leaving so the multitudes of local wild boars can’t get in at night.

Next to the little chapel in the cemetery there’s a small area called the Soldatenhain, or the Soldiers’ Grove. Wehrmacht soldiers, including a number whose names are not known, are buried here; most of them killed on the 24th of April, 1945 during the last days of WWII. Many were relatively old, others quite young. They were some of the last German soldiers to die, and were little more than cannon fodder in face of the overwhelming strength of the Soviet Army as it swept through here.

It really is amazing just how normal this suburb is today. It’s developed into a peaceful little bedroom community since the wall has come down, and the scars of WWII, which were enormous, have all but vanished. It’s important, nonetheless, not to forget all the history around here, and to make sure much of it doesn’t repeat itself!

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