A divided street becomes whole

Nov. 11, 1989
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WEST BERLIN -- By a twist of fate, the boundary line between East and West Berlin runs down the middle of Bernauerstrasse. Sister Sophie Hermann remembers the day the guards came to put up the wall that divided her street.

'It was a dreadful situation. I saw the soldiers and tanks being drawn to the border and the barbed wire being unfurled for the wall,' she recalled Saturday, watching with tears in her eyes as thousands of East Germans poured through a gap in the wall into the west side of the divided street.

The 74-year-old nun handed out warm buns and cups of hot coffee to the visitors, recalling the years before there was a wall, when Bernauerstrasse was a normal street of shops, families and neighbors.

'I'm happy that this has happened, but I still find it difficult to forget all the sadness that was caused here when they built the wall in 1961,' she said.

At the time, she was a nurse, working at a local hospital on the street. She says she tended to many patients suffering from injuries, 'mostly broken bones,' sustained when they tried to jump from buildings on the East Berlin side in a desperate effort to cross the wall.

'It was under the Bernauerstrasse that a tunnel was also built, through which several hundred people fled from East Berlin to a baker's shop on our side of the street,' she recalled. 'That was a great success until the operation was betrayed.'

Hermann said people also escaped to the West through the sewage system that ran under the divided street.

'One night I saw a manhole cover being pushed up in the street and several East Germans emerged,' she said. 'That was a novel way of escape, I can tell you. It took my breath away.'

On Saturday, Hermann rejoiced to see East Berliners come freely through the wall.

'I never thought I would live to see it happen,' she said, greeting visitors at a church building adjoining the hospital.

As East Berliners poured through the gap in the wall into Bernauerstrasse, their West German neighbors clapped and cheered. Many of the East Berliners looked overwhelmed by the experience, their eyes filled with tears.

An elderly West Berliner plucked bars of chocolate from a huge sack and bestowed them on the visitors while a small child proudly handed copies of fairytales to East German children who came through the wall fearfully clutching the hands of their parents.

Other bestowed flowers on the newcomers and workers from a local food distribution company handed out packets of coffee and sweets from the back of a truck into the waiting hands of grateful East Berliners.

After almost 30 years, Bernauerstrasse was a neighborhood again.

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