Flickering red torch was West's first warning of Berlin Wall

Fri Nov 7, 2014 1:13am EST
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By Adam Kellett-Long

(Reuters) - A red torch flickered in the shadows of the Brandenburg Gate as I drove down a deserted Unter den Linden toward the main crossing point between East and West Berlin in the early hours of August 13, 1961.

It was a border policeman waving me down. He strolled casually over and declared: "I'm afraid you cannot go any further. The border is closed (Die Grenze ist geschlossen)."

These were momentous words in Europe's post-war history. I did not stay to argue but turned the car around and headed back toward the office-flat which Reuters rented in the Schoenhauser Allee (in East Berlin) about a mile away.

At the edge of the huge Karl Marx Platz, the square where the Communist regime held all its ceremonial parades, a soldier with another red torch stepped out and stopped my car.

Before I had time to protest, a long column of trucks filled with police and factory fighting guards, as the East German militia were then known, streamed for some 10 minutes across the square and disappeared at speed into the darkness toward the Brandenburg Gate.

I returned to the office, "white to the lips" as my wife's diary of the time records, and sat down at the teleprinter to file a message to headquarters in London - "The East-West Berlin border was closed early today."

It was a world scoop by eight minutes.

As it happened, one of the largest police stations in East Berlin was a few doors away from the Reuters office. Within a few minutes, the tranquility of the warm summer night was broken by the roar of trucks and motorcycles as it was turned into an operational headquarters for the border-closing operation.   Continued...