You can now take a ride on a piece of living history – a 1969 ex-East Berlin tram – at the UK’s National Tramway Museum.
Sixty years ago, on the morning of August 13th, 1961, the inhabitants of Berlin awoke to find that two thirds of their city had been isolated from the rest by the tearing up of roads, blocking of railway lines and the erection of barbed wire fencing along the 97-mile border that the western sector shared with the German Democratic Republic, and the 27 miles that divided West and East Berlin. What’s more, within four days, the barbed wire would be replaced by a concrete wall.
Initially, the inhabitants on each side of the wall were unable to visit or even telephone each other. However, from the mid-1960s, West Berliners were allowed to visit their relatives in the East at Christmas. In 1971, following negotiations by the four occupying powers, the restrictions were relaxed further.
Even then, though, those in the east could only cross to the west for work, for important family events, if they were pensioners or deemed to be of no further use to the State. In the first two cases, the existence of relatives in the East provided insurance that travellers to the West would return.
It’s believed that, in the 28 years of the era of the wall, about 5,000 people managed to escape to West Berlin, although at least 140 people died attempting to do so. The restrictions on East Berliners travelling to the west were revoked on November 9th, 1989, and reunification of Germany followed the following year. To those who visited Berlin in the 28 years of the Wall, it was an interesting city to say the least.
In 1996, a refugee from Berlin arrived at the National Tramway Museum at Crich, in Derbyshire. It was an East Berlin ‘Rekowagen’, or rebuilt tram, which had been built in 1969. Since arriving at the museum, Berlin Tramways (BVB) No. 223 006-4 has been equipped with a lift to enable people with impaired mobility to enjoy a ride on the tramway. The tram was placed on exhibition on August 13th this year, in order to tell the story.
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