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UPI Archives
Monday, Aug. 14, 1961

East Berlin a city under siege

BERLIN, Aug. 14, 1961 (UPI) -- East Berlin is a city under siege.

I saw the soldiers, tanks, and armed police. I felt the fear.

My 90-minute taxi ride through East Berlin showed me as many police and soldiers on the streets as civilians. Through my cab windows I saw a police state at work.

My West Berlin cab driver had hedged when I told him to cross the border. He bit his lip, paused, then slid into his seat and said: "I want to see how it looks today."

The cab rolled up to the Brandenburg Gate, one of the main doors in the Iron Curtain. "Where are you going?" snapped an East German border guard.

The cab driver opened his mouth to answer when he heard something go "whoosh... swiss... whoosh...." A few feet away East German police had turned a water cannon on Western news photographers. "Where are you going?" asked the Red guard again.

My cabbie wanted no trouble. "To the Trade Ministry," he lied. The Red guard looked into the cab's trunk and let us pass. The cab rolled into a sea of armed men.

About 2,000 "peoples police" and "workers militiamen" were posted on the Communist side of the Brandenburg Gate. Five Russian T-34 tanks, manned by East Germans, sat there like giant toads.

We rode into Unter Den Linden. Militia swarmed over the sidewalks and roadway.

The militiamen blocked our path.

"Can't you move aside?" my cabbie asked one formation.

"You shut your mouth!" snarled a militiaman.

We moved around a corner into Leipzigerstrasse. We found no civilians, but ran into 15 tanks and four armored troop carriers. The crews milled around tents beside their vehicles.

Wilhelmstrasse, the street where Hitler started and ended his war, was sealed off.

We drove into the eerie world of East Berlin railroad station. Streetcars and buses inched around with almost empty seats. The streets were bare of humanity.

"Where is everyone?" my cabbie yelled. He didn't have to yell. I sat two feet from him. But I understood. You yell when you feel suddenly lonesome.

My cabbie glided back into West Berlin through the Friedrichstrasse crossing.

My cabbie asked me not to mention his name. He said, "I don't want trouble when I go in next time -- if there is a next time."

Copyright 2007 by United Press International.