Berlin
A city divided by the Cold War · Berlin, Germany
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Helping fugitives to escape from the GDR

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After the erection of the Wall in 1961, a large part of the West-Berlin population soon became involved in assisting people to escape from the eastern part of the city. Manfred Matthies and his brother were no exception and thus in 1961 they got involved in the activities of a student group that organized the escapes. Since they had fled themselves from the GDR only a couple of years before, they knew what it meant to be unable to get away from there any longer. In the beginning, personal contacts were used to smuggle relatives and friends from the eastern part of the city to the West. A common method in the early days was the forging of passes. The FRG citizens received a pass at Checkpoint Charlie which they could use to travel to East Berlin. This document would be immediately reprinted in West Berlin. The university at which Matthies was studying supplied the necessary technical equipment for this. With the fake reprinted pass, a citizen from East Berlin could pass through the checkpoint on the same day.

Manfred Matthies

Manfred Matthies

Manfred Matthies was born in 1941 in Magdeburg. In 1959, the nearly 18 -year-old Matthies fled with his mother and sister from Magdeburg to East Berlin and from there to West Berlin. It was only later that he learned that his mother had already been under the surveillance of the Stasi because of her entertaining contacts with the West. From West Berlin the family was sent to North Rhine- Westphalia, where Matthies worked for several years. In 1961, he went to study in West Berlin where he witnessed the construction of the Wall. Matthies and his brother then became members of a student group that assisted East-German fugitives to migrate across the border to the West. They made use of the complete repertoire of escape methods: forging passports, tunnel excavations, fleeing through the sewers, transportation in converted cars, escaping by car across the Hungarian- Austrian or Yugoslav border or in a sailboat from Poland via the Baltic Sea. By the end of December 1972, however, Matthies was arrested at a checkpoint while assisting a fugitive and sentenced to 13 years in prison. He was imprisoned in Bautzen II for a number of years and released early in 1976. Matthies then went back to West Berlin. When the Wall came down in 1989 it came as a complete surprise to him. The night when the wall collapsed, he was at the Brandenburg Gate.

Berlin

Available in: English | Deutsch

After the Second World War, Berlin was divided into four sectors according to the London protocols. A division of the city into East and West Berlin had not originally been intended and was only the result of the confrontation of the powers that unfolded with the emergence of the Cold War. The division of Berlin was sealed by the foundation of the Federal Republic of Germany in West Germany and the German Democratic Republic, (GDR), in East Germany in 1949. The GDR proclaimed Berlin as its capital. Since 1949, West Berlin was de facto a part of the Federal Republic of Germany with a special legal status and East Berlin was de facto a part of East Germany. Since the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961, East and West Berlin were completely separated. Transit was possible only for the citizens of the Federal Republic of Germany and West Berlin at certain designated checkpoints and until 1972 only in exceptional cases.

Berlin

On this place

Construction of the wall

Construction of the wall

Manfred Matthies
Helping fugitives to escape from the GDR

Helping fugitives to escape from the GDR

Manfred Matthies
Longing for freedom

Longing for freedom

Manfred Matthies
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