Archive for May, 2009|Monthly archive page

Radio Interview

In Berlin Wall, DDR, Running on May 25, 2009 at 7:43 am

Hi from Hamburg, home of the infamous Reeperbahn, but also cult football club St Pauli. I joined the faith in serendipitous circumstances yesterday, when a friendly local walked up to me and handed over a free ticket to the sold-out game. More of that later.

The blog will be updated retrospectively, but in the meantime you can hear me (2m 10s in) talking on this Deutsche Welle radio programme.

Typically, the one day we have a journalist running with us, we end up wading through soaking wet fields after a minor GPS hiccup. A few nettle stings and minor electric shocks later, we’re back on track – as you can hear in the report or see here. When they built the GDR border, they didn’t have holidaying runners in mind.

Day 6

In Uncategorized on May 20, 2009 at 12:41 pm
Team pic at Hotensleben.

Team pic at Hotensleben.

Replica revealed

In Berlin Wall on May 19, 2009 at 11:53 am

“No, this is not original,” tuts Gert, like an antique dealer who has seen through a poor attempt at facsimile put before his discerning eye. “This fence is a replica,” he says, before producing Poirot-like the evidence. “The holes used to be so small on the original that you couldn’t get your finger in,” he says with a flourish, putting his own digit into one of the holes in the metal mesh.

It seems bizarre, but in the rush to dismember the internal border, the Wall disappeared quickly as people raced to remove this abhorrent symbol of division. It was only afterwards – when it was realised that you couldn’t just erase four decades of history overnight – that the need for memorials and remembrance was acknowledged.

And so we have the bizarre scenario of replica border fencing, to replace what so many sought for so long to tear down. Unsurprisingly, Gert is a policeman and works at the Lubeck training college where the FRG’s border police were trained. This is where we’ll sleep on the last night. And perhaps where Gert will log the evidence in the mysterious case of the replica Wall.

Day 5

In Uncategorized on May 19, 2009 at 10:40 am

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Dongle-less in the DDR

In DDR on May 18, 2009 at 7:57 pm

Greetings from Wanfried. The run is going fantastically, and we are being royally feted wherever we go. I have lost count of the number of Burgermeisters we have met.

Unfortunately, there is very little internet access for a dongle-less kind of guy like myself. But I am collecting vast amounts of material and there will be some great posts, even if retrospectively. The beautiful countryside around the border is full of history.

If you sprechen-sie Deutsche you can check out the official website.

Entschuldigung fur die freunden von Timo, aber das ist ein gut seite auch!

Day 4 – Fulda Gap

In Berlin Wall, GDR, Uncategorized on May 18, 2009 at 10:38 am
Clash that never came.

Clash that never came.

We’ve mainly focused on the ramifications of the border on Germans. But here we’re reminded of the bigger picture. This is the Fulda Gap, a strategic lowland corridor where NATO planners expected any Soviet push to be concentrated. From here it was 48 hours to the psychologically symbolic Rhine.

It doesn’t seem so long ago that newsreaders in the UK would report exercises on this border; any one of which could be the start of the Soviet attack that so many of us feared.

I lived in Sunderland in North East England, and we were told that it was a primary target because it was a port. Every so often the main police station would test an air raid siren which would herald incoming missiles after the authorities received the infamous “four-minute warning”.

Here at the Point Alpha museum, the Americans had their own watchtowers. Watching them, watching us, watching them… A flagpole flying the Stars and Stripes marks the point where US jeeps would turn around before the border as they made their rounds.

In the museum, a diorama (see above pic) shows models of the weaponry that would have been involved: tanks, armoured cars, tracked missile launchers and attack helicopters. During NATO exercises, orange denotes enemy forces and friendly fire incidents are sometimes are referred to as a “blue on blue”.

Here we saw our first SM-70, the GDR antipersonnel mine that lined the border in many places. Attached to a post or the fence, it was activated by a tripwire and would send out 80 or so steel splinters in a deadly cone. A sobering reminder that people had died along the border, and very unpleasantly too.

Day 3 – Tough Terrain

In GDR, Germany, Running on May 17, 2009 at 3:55 pm
What happened to easy asphalt?

What happened to easy asphalt?

The hardest section of the run for me today. We were supposed to be on easy asphalt, but – as we later found out – we’d read the spreadsheet incorrectly. My lactate system was straining, and poor Holger had already run that morning and now he had to push the escort bike up a series of steep hills that made pedaling impossible.

This surface was the (soon to be dreaded) Kolonnonweg. Made from concrete strips, with closely-spaced holes that were just big enough to get your foot into, it was a nightmare to run on. Every step had to be watched and in some parts it was on tiptoe. It must have been a bumpy ride in a GDR patrol jeep.

Harmless now, you couldn't even have approached it without a permit back then.

Harmless now, you couldn't even have approached it without a permit back then.

During this long stage, I briefly wondered what I had let myself in for. When we eventually emerged into a clearing, Kirstin kissed the van!

Day 3

In Uncategorized on May 17, 2009 at 1:35 pm
Cross made from old border fence.

Cross made from old border fence.

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Day 2 – Bare-chested cheek

In Day 2, GDR on May 16, 2009 at 6:49 pm
The GDR's version of the VW Transporter (photo: Andreas Baltres)

The GDR's version of the VW Transporter (photo: Andreas Baltres)

One of the run’s more surreal moments occurred today. Coming towards the end of my stage, running through fields, I spied a barn with one of the other team members standing next to it waving.

It was hot, so I’d taken my official top off as there was no-one around – I didn’t want to look like the stereotypical Brit abroad. So imagine my surprise when I turned the corner of the barn and found myself running into an applauding crowd in the middle of a GDR-era motorshow.

Bemused, and a little confused, I made my way past a collection of customised Trabis, Barkas vans and various other preserved vehicles from that time. The Barkas above is ex-fire brigade. But in the Stasi museums you can see the more sinister grey versions of these which covertly transported political prisoners between detention centres.

Someone recently told me that Trabis shouldn’t be parked near cows because they are made of cellulose and the cows might eat them. Unfortunately there was no time to take in these so-uncool-they’re-cool vehicles as we had to get to the next stage. Still bemused at how one barn had managed to obscure such a large gathering of people, I jumped into our modern VW T4 and on we went.

Day 2 cont.

In Day 2, Uncategorized on May 16, 2009 at 10:33 am
There are still watchtowers, but for hunting.

There are still watchtowers, but for hunting.

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