West Berlin recalls 'island' of freedom that vanished with Wall

Fri Nov 7, 2014 9:08am EST
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By Stephen Brown

BERLIN (Reuters) - With East Germany in the limelight of celebrations of 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, people who spent the Cold War in the capitalist enclave of West Berlin can be forgiven for feeling overlooked.

But after a quarter of a century of "Ostalgie" - the often morbid nostalgia for the former communist east - the west side is quietly telling the story of an "island of freedom" that vanished with the Wall, in an outpouring of "Westalgie".

"West Berlin really existed, people!" wrote a member of the Facebook site "West Berliner Mauerkinder" ('Wall child'), set up this year as a platform for reminiscences of the west.

"Westalgie" is a hard sell to tourists drawn in ever-growing numbers to sites in the east associated with the Nazis or Stasi (the secret police of the German Democratic Republic) and the museums and few historic buildings that survived World War Two.

There are some attempts to compete directly. Tourists can tour the west in vintage VW Beetles as well as the east in GDR-made Trabants. Teufelsberg, the delapidated Cold War listening post on a manmade hill from debris from wartime bombing, is popular with tourists. A guide jokes that U.S. intelligence could hear Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev brushing his teeth.

But most attractions are on the east side of the Wall and even western traffic-lights are being colonized by the jauntily-hatted GDR "Ampelmaenchen" (traffic-light people) from the 1970s which are a hit on souvenir T-shirts, mugs and mouse-pads.

"It's a shame to lose this part of West Berlin's identity," said Jeanette Chong, founder of the Facebook group which has grown to over 2,000 western Mauerkinder in a few months.

Born the same year as the Wall in 1961 to a German mother and Chinese father, Chong is less concerned about competing with the east than reminiscing about what she and many others refer to as a happy West German "island" surrounded by the GDR.   Continued...

People walk under stands with balloons placed along the former Berlin Wall location at East Side Gallery, which will be used in the installation 'Lichtgrenze' (Border of Light) in Berlin November 7, 2014. REUTERS/Hannibal