The bear on Berlin's coat of arms gives us a friendly wave as we cross the border between Berlin and the surrounding state of Brandenburg. Nowadays, you normally just keep driving on the A115 autobahn towards Potsdam – there are a couple of buildings remaining that remind us that this was once one of the most important border crossings between East and West. But this time, I decide to stop and take a look at the site now in the hands of the customs agency, although largely left abandoned in the summer heat. Then memories of when the Wall still stood here come flooding back. When I was growing up, we frequently drove from West Germany to West Berlin on the transit route through East Germany that ran from Helmstedt to Dreilinden-Drewitz. Anyone who drove between West Germany and West Berlin had to drive on one of three prescribed transit routes across the GDR. You were also subject to thorough checks as you entered and exited the territory of the "other Germany".
Memories of the Border Traffic
The Allies called this border crossing Checkpoint Bravo, although that name never stuck like that of Checkpoint Charlie; for the Germans, at least, this border crossing was known as Dreilinden-Drewitz. And as a West German or West Berliner trying to make the crossing, you would spend a lot of time on what were essentially massive parking lots awaiting your turn to undergo the border controls. The cars would come up to the border, most drivers switched them off, only to turn them on again as we inched our way to the border guards. We had our papers ready to go, the radio was switched off and there was tension in the air. No one made any jokes, no one made any comments that could be misinterpreted – we did not want to provoke the border guards... Then we were waved to the border post itself where the identity papers were checked. The unlucky ones had to go through a very thorough search of their car. Sometimes they even made you take out the back seat. Unfortunately, when this happened to my father, he didn't manage to do it correctly and cut his hand – and drove the rest of the way home bleeding and cursing. After the inspection, we would receive a transit visa that we would then present again when we left East German territory. This also served as a record of how long we had been on the road.
On the Transit Route
The transit route had a speed limit of 100 km/hr. (62 mph), which my family would hold to slavishly, because we did not want to be one of those sad-looking persons along the roadside, who had been stopped and forced to pay the excessive fine. We also stopped only at the officially approved car parks. A prolonged interruption of the trip and especially an exit from the transit route were not allowed.
The Last Transit
I remember one journey especially vividly: with a fully loaded car, I drove towards Berlin in October to begin university there. I was so full of anticipation that the wait at the border control and the checks didn't faze me.
Then three weeks later, the inner-German border was opened...