I am now at home after arriving from Frankfurt earlier this afternoon. Since I did not have Internet access all weekend, except for a brief stop at that same cheap Berlin Internet café where I only had time to check E-mail, I will write about the final days of my vacation from home. Since I am still operating on German time and it’s already past 22.30 here at home (thus past 04.30 in Germany) I am going to post about my last few days over several days. Today’s travelogue will be about Mark’s and my trip to Steinstücken.
Sunday morning Mark and I headed to the southwest city limits of Berlin to explore Steinstücken, a 12½-hectare parcel of West Berlin land that fell outside the western city limits, lying completely surrounded by East Germany. Its two hundred inhabitants were trapped inside a communist country, just as West Berlin was. Thus Steinstücken was an exclave of West Berlin which itself was an exclave of West Germany.
In order to get to Steinstücken, we took the S-Bahn to Griebnitzsee station, which is actually in the former East German city of Potsdam. We walked through Potsdam University in order to reach Steinstücken. The university leads you to the Stahnsdorfer Brücke, which is a bridge that crosses the traintracks that bisect Steinstücken. When the new Stahnsdorfer bridge was constructed, it crossed over the East German tracks, which led to a border dispute. A compromise was made whereby the bridge and its airspace would be in West Germany while the tracks and their airspace (which would only go as high as the underside of the bridge) would be in East Germany. This created an international border freakshow known as a vertical frontier. We met two men on the street and chatted with them about Steinstücken. The second man we met, who spoke English as a first language since he was born in the United States, told us that this overlapping vertical border was lost when the two Germanys reunited, resulting in a loss of surface area for the reunited country since it could count the bridge surface area only once!
In 1972 a road was built linking West Berlin to Steinstücken. This road, Bernhard-Beyer-Straße, was ceded to West Germany after a series of land swaps and money changed hands. The Berlin Wall extended along the length of Bernhard-Beyer-Straße as seen in the photo marking the road’s opening day:
Find the border guards’ watchtower in the background. There was no trace of the Wall or tower when we were there, although there was a row of old forest growth next to the road. Right beside these old trees was a row of new growth, then older trees continued again. Mark believed that the newer trees were a sign of where the Wall used to be. The American-born gentleman whom we met on that very road confirmed our suspicion.
Since Steinstücken is so small, at the end of every street you see a yellow sign indicating Potsdam Landeshauptstadt. Steinstücken may be part of a reunited Germany as a connected part of Berlin, yet it is still surrounded by the city of Potsdam. Over the course of the 28 years that the Berlin Wall was in existence, East Germany razed houses and apartments along the border with West Berlin. A no-man’s-land, or East German “death strip”, lay between two Walls. Yet look at the Wall in the Steinstücken aerial photo:
in the lower left you can see five houses with red roofs all in a row. There is no no-man’s-land between these houses and the houses of Steinstücken, although there is a wide clearing, and two Walls, in the right side of the photo.
There used to be a small footbridge over the traintracks yet when the Wall went up, the bridge had to come down. Mark and I found a path that led to the old bridge, yet as we walked along it our bare calves were stung by some plant. It felt as though thousands of microscopic needles were penetrating our skin. It hurt so much that we both feared that our legs would swell up and give us debilitating rashes. I told Mark not to touch the skin lest the irritant would transfer to his fingers and spread wherever he touched. I also begged him not to aggravate the itching by scratching. There were no tiny needles or barbs stuck in my leg though I’d like to know what plant we brushed aside that gave us such an unpleasant and painful walk during the rest of our visit to Steinstücken. The stinging disappeared later on that afternoon.
We saw a memorial to the American helicopter pilots who guarded Steinstücken on the premises after Eastern soldiers occupied the territory for a few days. After two hours in Steinstücken, Mark and I visited Potsdam.