17 NOVEMBER 1961, Page 4

Waiting by the Wall

From SARAH GAINHAM BERNAUERSTRASSE runs along the sector border, and there are an odd set of new facts of life here. About three-quarters of a mile long, the new Wall runs along it, though it doesn't look new; the cheap and nasty greyish cement building blocks, like the always rusty barbed wire, look as if they were remade from materials already old. Somebody worked out that the Communists could have built several hundred new houses with the cement blocks used on the Wall—they can always find raw materials when politics demand them. The wall is too high for anyone to see over; police on both sides keep the people away from the immediate border-line, too. In an attempt to control movements out of, largely

'If "You've never had ii so good" was really a warning.. was "Conservative Works'' a threat?'

Free dom Allied, fear of rioting, shootings, even shouting' affrays, the police have made parking restrictions specially for this street; parking is forbidden except on Wednesdays and Sundays between the 1.30-4 p.m., and 5-7 p.m. visiting times for those inside and outside the wall—nobody is quite sure in their minds who is inside and who is outside.

Here the madness of our times is very clearly expressed. Along the Western side of the street there are wooden podiums erected so that people can climb the steps and see over the wall, where granny or the shut-out (or is it shut-in) lover waits, having had a postcard giving a time and place; the post still works. Since Berlin on both sides is very largely a working-class city, the people are mostly poorly dressed. The old look anxious and the young look angry; the old are not very good at hiding their feelings while the young put on a tough air, sometimes, of not caring.

At one place the wall has been daubed roughlY and hastily with the frightening letters KZ (concentration camp). This and the visiting times make a bad impression on strangers, and the notices and broadcasting trucks that ask Germans not to fire on Germans; strangers take the implication that orderly parking is made mote important than the misery of the people standing in the iron Berlin cold, or that it is all right to 'fire on other kinds of people but not' on Germans; if natural, it is a little unjust. 1h' police are responsible to the Allies for order; and everywhere in the world it is thought worse to fight your own people than to fight other people —still, a silt of bad feeling is left, which like the universal tactlessness is part of the Berlio character. Some visitors bring their own household step- ladders to see over the wall; they also bring binoculars when they can get them. A smart spiv is said to have bought up a large consignment of Japanese field-glasses. It may not be true but everyone believes it. You need a field-glass to see any features because of the police keeping People at a distance. At one point where a cross- road runs very straight into the East sector the People's Police have hung a huge curtain of sacking across the road—for once the cliché of the curtain is literal fact.

There are five or six places in the street where heaps of flowers and crosses mark the places vvhece escape attempts by jumping out of win- dows have missed the fire-rescue blankets held bl the police or were too hasty to wait for the blanket to be held out. The big houses are five or six stories tall; empty now and lower windows and doors bricked up, they still show many signs of the savagery of the battle for Berlin sixteen years ago. At the Church of the Atonement (the word in German is the same as the word normally used for Reconciliation, which adds its own crude irony) the wall runs right across the church entrance, cutting it off from the parishioners. One of the crashes from the fourth floor was a twenty-one-year-old student of the Free Univer- sity whose home was in East Berlin. He was five Years old when Berlin fell, so the hard-mouthed saying, 'after all, they started it,' hardly applies. All his conscious life les grands mots of the Western World had been telling him that his life and freedom were assured in the four-power City of his birth, and one hears an awful lot of grands mots in Berlin—but not from the people Who stand waiting by the wall.