AP photographer remembers Berlin Wall

AP News
Posted: Aug 12, 2011 5:51 AM
AP photographer remembers Berlin Wall

Fifty years after his pictures of the Berlin Wall going up were published around the globe, former AP photographer Peter Hillebrecht slowly walked along a cobblestone strip that serves as a reminder of the barrier that once divided the German capital _ and relived the day.

"I got a phone call at 2:30 in the morning from an editor telling me that the East Germans had started building a wall through the city," the 81-year-old said during a recent visit to Berlin, ahead of the 50th anniversary Saturday of the building of the wall.

"So I ran out and took some of the first pictures at night, and then many more during daylight in the Tiergarten neighborhood and Brandenburg Gate where the East German soldiers had started shoveling and put up fences."

Hillebrecht's AP pictures of the emerging Berlin Wall were among the first images of the barrier that was to define the Cold War and divide a continent to hit newsstands all over the world.

Germany had been divided into a capitalist western and communist eastern sectors after the end of World War II. At the height of tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union, the East German regime started building a wall through the capital, dividing streets and neighborhoods, tearing apart families and friendships.

The division ended on Nov. 9, 1989 _ after communist East Germany opened the Berlin Wall amid pressure from massive demonstrations.

Today, only a few of the wall's roughly 12-foot (3 and 1/2-meter) high concrete slabs remain standing _ as haunting reminders of the city's 28 years of division. Among the most famous is a graffiti-painted section of the wall, known as the East Side Gallery. It snakes along the bank of the Spree river for three quarters of a mile (1.3 kilometers).

Elsewhere in the city, authorities are now scrambling to restore crumbling stretches that survived the frenzy of Berlin citizens eager to tear down the hated barrier _ and tourists seeking their own piece of the wall.

Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit told reporters ahead of Saturday's commemorations that city authorities have repeatedly been confronted with charges of not having preserved enough of the barrier.

"From the point of view of the tourist, yes it probably would have been better to save more," Wowereit said. "But at the time, I have to say, we were just so happy to get rid of the wall."

Part of the nearly 25 mile (40-kilometer) path the wall wound through the heart of the city is marked today by a cobblestone strip that stretches down streets and across sidewalks to remind passers-by where the wall once stood.

When the wall was first built, nobody knew what was going to happen next. Many people were afraid that the wall would serve as a provocation and turn to the Cold War into a hot one.

"I remember sitting in one of those buildings at Checkpoint Charlie and watching American and Soviet tanks pulling up and facing each other _ it was scary times," Hillebrecht said.