Friday 14 November 2014

Crumbs! Berlin exclaves

I wrote a short piece about the end of the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall on 9th November to recognize the 25th anniversary of the opening of the border between East and West Berlin.  As might be expected, in researching the back-story I fell down an interweb rabbit-hole and finished up in . . . Steinstücken a few streets of territory that was part of West Berlin but isolated from the rest of Stadtgemeinde Zehlenberg, its borough/municipality, by a 1 km wide section of woods that was part of the DDR. 200 people lived in this island of Capitalism and it was hard enough for them as they had to go through a tedious rigmarole at two border-crossings [W-E then E-W] to go shopping or to visit friends and relations.  It was not the largest of a dozen similar exclaves that surrounded the beleaguered state of West Berlin but it was the only one which housed permanent residents.  All these patches of land were the result of following legal niceties; blowing the dust off deeds to document land-tenure over the previous 700 years.  After WWII, Germany and Austria were carved up into zones of occupation by the victors: France, UK, USA and USSR all awarded themselves chunks of the conquered territory and Berlin, as the capital of the Third Reich, was separately partitioned.  It was more or less the same as we saw in Baarle, but with the added frisson of the Cold War: if you were seen to back-down you lost face. It was manlier to stick to your guns.

On 18 October 1951, a police squadron from DDR were ordered to occupy Steinstücken but backed down and backed out after four days of objections from the 200ish local residents who paid their taxes elsewhere. The US forces, which were still nominally in charge of that part of West Berlin, added their diplomatic weight to the protest.  The great powers were rather less active in their condemnation of India's annexation / liberation / decolonialisation of Goa in December 1961.  This despite the fact that 1.4 million Goans were not asked for their opinion and 30 of them were killed in the invasion. When the Cold War cranked up a notch with the building of the wall and the Berlin Airlift, 3 (three) US servicemen were stationed in Steinstücken to defend it in the event of another attempted invasion. Posturing on the other side meant that they were not allowed to drive or walk to their battle-station but had to be brought in and out and serviced by helicopter. That went on for ten years! Ten minutes a day of helicopter fun at $100 a pop at today's prices over ten years is $365,000 of tax-money. But that's mohnkuchen compared to the costs of keeping the troika of soldiers in place which was well north of $3.65 million in today's money.

In 1971, the situation of the Berlin exclaves was regularised, by agreement and a lot of hard cash. For DM4 million [about €2million] West Berlin bought a corridor of land to connect Steinstücken with its own town-hall.  The Berlin Wall was extended on either side leaving a strip 1000m x 20m totalling 2.3 ha.  That's €90 per sq.m! Two of the other exclaves continued in a limbo of legal correctness but personal faff until 1988. Fichtewiese (3.5 ha) and Erlengrund (0.5 ha) were almost adjacent and used by allotment clubs whose members had to be accompanied by a member of the border patrol every time they wanted to thin out their turnips or stake up their peas. In 1988, they were connected to the mainland when the DDR ceded just enough territory to round out the border. The other bits were uninhabited fields or wasteland: Falkenhagener Wiese 45ha; Wüste Mark 22ha; Laszinswiesen 13ha; Große Kuhlake 8ha; Nuthewiesen 3.5ha; Finkenkrug 3.5ha; Böttcherberg 0.3 ha were all ceded to the DDR either in 1971 or in the go-round-again in 1988.  Quite apart from the fact that these territories were part of either Spandau or Zehlenberg municipality and then ceded to Schönwalde, Falkensee or Potsdam, they were owned by people some of whom needed access to farm them.  Their inconvenience tends to be overlooked. Aw shucks, it only lasted from 1961 to 1989: what's thirty years between enemies? It's a generation is what it is.

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