Escape from East Berlin with wedding dress in hand

Fri Aug 12, 2011 1:36pm EDT
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By Annika Breidthardt

BERLIN (Reuters) - Erika Schallert fled East Berlin on August 15, 1961, with nothing but the clothes she was wearing and her half-finished wedding dress, determined that nothing was going to stop her getting married -- not even the Berlin Wall.

Two days before, East German border guards in the dead of night set up the first barbed-wire version of the Wall that would become a 3.6-meter-high concrete barrier dividing Berlin for nearly thirty years.

The frontier between East and West Germany, from the Baltic to Bavaria, had been sealed for a decade but Berlin was still open due to its special status under the occupying powers -- the United States, France, Britain and the Soviet Union.

Schallert, then 22, was living with her parents in the east but studied in the west where her fiance, Herbert, lived.

She had crossed the border almost every day for 13 years, and been stopped by border guards only a handful of times, so she ignored her fiance's warnings that a crackdown on the accelerating exodus of people into the West was inevitable.

Sitting in her large apartment half a century later, she recalled how her father told her on the morning of August 13 that transport links had been severed.

"At that moment, I knew what had happened. Before then I had always banished that thought," she said.

ESCAPE   Continued...

<p>A person walks across the plaque and a line of bricks that show where the Berlin Wall used to stand at the Berlin Wall memorial site in Bernauer Strasse, August 9, 2011. REUTERS/Thomas Peter</p>