The Wall

Eliot Weinberger

I.

At 8.46 p.m. at Rudower Höhe, the sentry sneezed and a West Berlin customs officer shouted back: ‘Gesundheit!’

At 11.40 a.m. at the Kiesberg sentry post, three West Berlin youths shouted: ‘Hey, guys, still smoking rags? Want an HB cigarette? Come over and get one.’

At 9.25 a.m. at the Buckersberg sentry post, two men, aged thirty-five to forty, asked: ‘Did you see two children yesterday afternoon, riding their bicycles along the canal?’ At 5.50 p.m., the fire department arrived and two divers went into the canal. At 6.50 p.m., they left, having found nothing.

At 12.19 p.m. at the Teltowkanal, a man about thirty years old called out: ‘I hope this shit ends soon, so we can be friends again.’

At 1.15 p.m. at the Teltowkanal, three West Berlin policemen, drinking Coca-Cola, asked: ‘Would you like one?’

At 3.30 p.m. at Forsthausallee, three women and a man called out to the sentry: ‘Can you shoot that crow? It’s getting on our nerves.’

At 10.00 p.m. at Heidekampgraben, a policeman asked: ‘Hi boys, are the mosquitoes bad over there too?’

At 8.40 a.m. at the Kölnische Heide sentry post, a girl about sixteen years old on the second storey of the house at Wegastraße 36 removed her pullover and displayed her breasts. At 9.20 a.m. she put her pullover back on.

At 6.10 p.m. at Puderstraße, watchdog Trux bit through the fencing on the dog track and attacked a commander and his assistant on patrol. Twelve shots were fired and the dog died.

At 10.00 a.m. at Harzer Straße, a driver and a co-worker in a beer delivery van, registration B-CL 51, offered the sentries beer ‘if you come over’.

At 12.59 p.m. at Lohmühlenstraße, a family in number 58/59 waved to a woman on the West Berlin side.

At 3.02 p.m. at Bahnhofstraße, a man in his mid-twenties said: ‘Go home and make yourself a cup of coffee.’

At 3.40 p.m. at Lohmühlenstraße, a woman about twenty years old called out four times: ‘Come on over, you can have me.’

At 7.05 p.m. at Kiefholzstraße, two girls, about fifteen years old, called to the sentry: ‘We love you! Come on over, we need something.’

At 1.30 p.m. at Bethaniendamm, a West Berlin customs official threw an empty lemonade bottle over the wall.

At 11.30 p.m. at Elsenstraße, three young women said: ‘Come on over, we’ve got the place to ourselves.’

At 4.56 p.m. at Alexandrinenstraße, a man shouted at the sentries: ‘Have you really thought about it?’

At 3.12 p.m. at Checkpoint Charlie, an American soldier held up a 25 x 30 cm photo of a nude woman.

At 2.03 p.m. at Ackerstraße, a man on a viewing platform threw his hat over the wall.

At 5.13 p.m. at the Marschall Bridge, a female corpse was found in the water barricades.

At 12.20 a.m. at Nordgraben, two men shouted to the sentry post: ‘Say something!’

At 10.15 a.m. at Wolliner Straße, an old lady threw a bag of oranges over the wall.

At 1.13 a.m. at Korsörer Straße, two men threw a pack of cigarettes (brand Ernte 23) over the wall, saying: ‘You can smoke these.’

At 5.15 p.m. at Schulzestraße, a sixteen-year-old boy on the S-Bahn platform said: ‘I have a question. What time is it?’

II.

Border guard XXXXXXXXX was commended for preventing a breach of the border with his watchdog Cella.

Border guard XXXXXXXXX was commended for keeping his motorcycle in excellent condition.

Border guard XXXXXXXXX was commended for his measured and exemplary appearance.

Border guard XXXXXXXXX was commended for fulfilling military norms.

Border guard XXXXXXXXX was commended for advocating the politics of the state in conversations with the other comrades in the barracks.

Border guard XXXXXXXXX was commended for encouraging his comrades to achieve higher performances.

Border guard XXXXXXXXX was commended for having his weapons locker win first place among all regiment lockers.

Border guard XXXXXXXXX was commended for excellent performance as a member of the chemical group.

Border guard XXXXXXXXX was commended for his correct actions.

Border guard XXXXXXXXX was commended for his class-appropriate manner when faced with enemy provocation at the border.

III.

Border guard XXXXXXXXX was censured for lacking ideological clarity.

Border guard XXXXXXXXX was censured for sleeping in the watchtower.

Border guard XXXXXXXXX was censured for telling a comrade that he would like to go the West for just one day to visit a brothel.

Border guard XXXXXXXXX was censured for lackadaisically performing his early morning gymnastics and not bothering to touch his toes.

Border guard XXXXXXXXX was censured for copying passages from Franz Kafka in his diary.

Border guard XXXXXXXXX was censured for owning a toy Mercedes automobile with an integrated measuring tape.

Border guard XXXXXXXXX was censured for being a committed fan of beat music.

Border guard XXXXXXXXX was censured for falling prey to ideological diversion due to his religious convictions.

Border guard XXXXXXXXX was censured for making shapes in the snow with his feet, out of boredom.

Border guard XXXXXXXXX was censured for firing single shots instead of shooting in short bursts.

Border guard XXXXXXXXX was censured for being afraid.

Border guard XXXXXXXXX was censured for shooting his gun at such an angle that the border violator was not forced to stop.

Border guard XXXXXXXXX was censured for committing suicide by hanging.

IV.

28 January 1969: 80 shots were fired at possible border violator Manfred XXXXXXXXX at Kremmener Straße, near the Friedrich-Ludwig-Jahn sports fields. None struck the target, but he was captured, interrogated by the State Security Police and turned over to a People’s Police Force car unit. He was discovered to be in a state of inebriation.

9 April 1969: 148 shots from two watch towers were fired at border violator Johannes Lange of Dresden. Fire ceased when the border violator had been destroyed. All of the eight border guards received commendations and three were given a material bonus of a wristwatch.

2 February 1969: 48 shots were fired at an unknown border violator at the Massante Bridge who was carrying a 3.5-metre wooden plank, which he leaned against the wall and scurried up. His fate is unknown.

10 November 1965: 17 shots were fired at border violator Heinz Cyrus XXXXXXXXX, a milkman from the island of Rügen. None struck the target. He fled into a building at Gartenstraße 85, ran up the stairs to the roof and attempted to hide by hanging from the gutter. The gutter collapsed, and he fell four storeys and died in the People’s Police hospital (Scharnhorststraße) the following day.

11 November 1969: 34 shots were fired at Heinz-Jürgen XXXXXXXXX, a fourteen-year-old, in the water under the Oberbaum Bridge. Earlier in the day, the boy had been questioned at Police Station 85 about a theft and was scared to go home. None of the shots struck the target, but the boy was apprehended by boat and arrested.

29 April 1966: 176 shots were fired at Paul Stretz, a West Berliner who, in an advanced state of inebriation, had decided to go for a swim in the Spandau Shipping Canal, in East Berlin territory. Mistaken for a border violator, four of the shots struck the target, who was destroyed.

18 August 1964: One fatal shot was fired by border guard XXXXXXXXX, age twenty, in the back of possible border violator Hildegard Trabant, age thirty-seven, of Tilsiter Straße. She was discovered hiding behind an elder bush beside abandoned railroad tracks at Schönhauser Allee, sixty metres from the border. Her personal effects, returned to her husband, a member of the People’s Police Force, were:

an identity card
Party card, membership no. 146,664
144.28 East German marks
1 key chain with keys
5 handkerchiefs
1 pair of shoes
1 blue slip
1 pair of stockings
1 dress suit
1 bottle of perfume
1 pair of sunglasses
1 pair of eyeglasses
1 pair of nail clippers
1 comb
12 cigarettes (Jubilar brand)
1 pen
1 notebook
1 postcard, sent 12 September 1963, from a relative in Recklinghausen
1 packet of tampons (Neo brand)

Adapted from the exhibition ‘Aus anderer Sicht: Die frühe Berliner Mauer’ (‘The Other View: The Early Berlin Wall’), conceived and curated by Annett Gröschner and Arwed Messmer, and the 750-page catalogue of documentation, published by Hatje Cantz (February 2011, €58).