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Here In Africa: The Fall Of The Iron Curtain In 1989

Barbara Durlacher tells of a trip into East Germany three years after the fall of the wall which divided the country during the Cold War years.

In 1992, only a few years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, I took a coach tour through Germany and into the countries that had formerly been closed to visitors from the West. It was a fascinating journey, especially the visit to Berlin which had not yet experienced the enormous reconstruction after re-unification which brought the former Eastern Sector into the first close contact many of the citizens had had with the West in over 40 years.

At the time we were there, the centre of the city was a huge civil engineering site. There were excavations everywhere, a forest of cranes crisscrossed the sky and an aerial cat’s cradle of multicoloured pipes pumped underground water from the excavations. But surprisingly, many famous landmarks remained, a miracle in itself, considering the bombardment the city had suffered during the thousand-bomber raids of the latter part of WWII.

The changes to Berlin have been reported so often that further discussion is superfluous; instead, I would prefer to mention one aspect of the withdrawal of the occupying Russian troops which I found of interest.

During our stay we were taken to Potsdam, now an outer suburb of Berlin, where we walked around the creeper-clan walls of Cecilienhof, the large and surprisingly Tudor-style home of Crown Prince Wilhelm Hohenzollern. It was within these walls that, at the Potsdam Conference from 17 July to 2nd August 1945, the fate of Europe was decided by President Truman, Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Stalin.

One of the most important results of these momentous decisions was, of course, the 40-year Russian occupation of Eastern Europe. This not only split Berlin in two, but also subjugated the population of more than half of Europe to the stifling doctrine of communism, and changed the course of modern history, the effects of which continue to resonate today.

Unaware of what would follow after the Conference, the Russian commander of Potsdam received orders to repatriate his men to their motherland, and almost overnight they packed up in Potsdam, abandoning whatever they felt was not essential to their lives in Russia.

This included pet animals, homes full of furniture and objects and even an occasional ‘wife’ whose presence might have been difficult to explain to the legal occupant of that position back home.

They also left a more permanent relic; a rather unusual housing project.
If you travel down a certain tree-lined avenue in Potsdam you will not fail to notice, amongst the aristocratic villas, a group of single-story wooden houses looking very out of place in such refined surroundings. These houses have an interesting story.

During the time of Frederick I of Prussia, a Russian Male Voice Choir paid a visit to the easy-going King. He was very fond of all things Russian; particularly its music and hugely talented singers. He fell in love with their beautiful voices and “invited them to stay” (really a royal decree forbidding them to return).

He promised that if they remained, he would see they were housed in the same style as in their own country, and as a further inducement vowed that they and their first-born male descendants would have freehold title to these charming little houses in perpetuity.

So, in accordance with the King’s promise, more than two hundred years after the golden-voiced singers arrived, there, amongst the elegant city villas, stand a group of wooden houses decorated with gingerbread carvings and tiny four-paned windows, exact replicas of Russian dashas where, for over 200 years, the descendents of the singers remained up to the end of the Second World War.

** As an addendum to the 1989 Russian evacuation, bands of ferocious abandoned dogs and cats became a serious threat to the local population. Special “search and destroy” squads had to be recruited to rid the city of wild, and in some cases, rabid animals that were posing a serious threat to the health and safety of the

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