Saturday, January 22, 2011

The road to Berlin

On 29 August, 1962, a party of 19 Manchester apprentices, including several from the North Western Gas Board, two Church of England ministers and one trades union official, left by train for Harwich. From there we took the overnight ferry to the Hook of Holland where we boarded a second train for Berlin.

The Manchester group - our Berlin guide, Wesley Bourdette, is on the bottom left.
The real excitement began when we crossed the border into the German Democratic Republic. Once over the border the train was stopped and searched by armed guards. Then it began a very slow journey on to Berlin. Along the way was saw armed guards and watch towers at regular intervals.We also saw several groups of forced labourers working in fields where they were guarded by what looked like the army. Taking photographs was difficult because we were told that if we were caught doing so our cameras would be confiscated. To make matters worse, and add to our sense of occassion , a guard regularly checked up on us.

East German watchtower.

Our route took us through a largely rural landscape until we reached Potsdam which was the first East German town we were able to observe from our rail carriage. What we saw looked dreadful. Bombed out houses were everywhere and those that were in better condition badly needed a coat of paint and other repairs. We were not impressed.

Eventually, thirty-one hours after leaving Manchester we again crossed a border, where the train was once more thoroughly searched, to reach the glittering sights of West Berlin. What a contrast to the dreary landscape of East Germany. The first thing that surprised us were the numerous lakes within the city boundaries. The second the well maintained houses and other buildings.

Manchester apprenticies in Berlin, Wesley Bourdette is leading a discussion.

In Berlin we were met at the Berlin Zoo railway station by an American Church of Christ pastor, Wesley Bourdette, who was our guide and interpreter throughout the two weeks we spent in the city. After dinner we were also given the first of a series of lectures about Berlin, the Cold War, and divided Germany. This one, by Bourdette, gave us an overview of Berlin’s history and the current situation a year after the construction of the notorious Berlin Wall.

Our first sight of the Berlin Wall.

The following day our educational tour began in earnest …

More to follow …

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