During my time in West Berlin I quickly became acquainted with a remote corner of the city. This tiny enclave (one of several that emerged as territorial anomalies in the aftermath of Allied occupation) remained a distinctly different piece of West Berlin. It then consisted of several small working farms, a couple of homes and a scattering of weekend bungalows. It was without a doubt one of the strangest places in West Berlin, since it was almost entirely surrounded by East German territory. Stranger still, Eiskeller itself surrounded a small piece of land – East German land – called Kienhorst.
I first found myself in Eiskeller in the summer of 1982 on the search for quiet and less dangerous bicycling paths. The flat meadows and quiet forests in Eiskeller were ideal, and most of the traffic one encountered on the smooth asphalt paths were occasional West Berliners strolling, cycling or jogging. West Berlin mushers also trained their huskies there in the off-season.
When I first discovered this bucolic corner I was with a friend, a Russian linguist and fellow cyclist. We had spent the day criss-crossing the British Sector and had ended up at the end of Schoenwalder Allee, West Berlin’s version of The End of the World. As we rode around the enclave we quickly noticed that there was literally no corner of this piece of land that was not observavble from the chain of East German observation towers along the wall. I didn’t realize then, but my fate would soon draw me back to this place
Once I had begun working for the MfS I had at my disposal three basic methods of delivering information to them. The first was the use of a dead drop – Toter Briefkasten. The second was to hand carry the information to a face to face meeting In East Germany. The third, which was only for emergencies, was to hand the items or information in question to my contact(s) in West Berlin, after which it would be given directly to my handler. All three of these options required a certain level of security, and for the first two methods that security was to be found in a place located in that northwest corner of West Berlin, Eiskeller. What at first appeared to be a security headache for the East Germans soon proved itself to be a unique gateway from East to West
The map above (with German notes) shows Eiskeller as it appeared in the 1980s. For me Eiskeller represented my entry/exit point to the GDR. It was, so to speak, my own private border crossing. When meeting with my handler or depositing items in the Dead Drop I would bicycle the distance from Tempelhof Airport to the far end of the British Sector. Delivery and meeting times were normally arranged after midnights shifts between 8-9 a.m. when there was little activity on the surrounding roads and paths.
Once I entered the enclave (the blue area near the right, top portion of the map) I was under compete observation by members of an elite unit of the MfS.
These men would relieve the Border Guards in the surrounding observation towers and take their places for the duration of our time in Eiskeller. During these times all cross-border activity – even East to West – was ignored. (If someone had attempted to escape to the West during one of my crossings, my handler once told me, that would have been his lucky day!)
My entry in Eiskeller followed a routine to allow the MfS to watch for any unwanted tails or other dangers. I would bicycle along the asphalt path parallel to the drainage ditch and the Wall to the northwest. This provided a clear line of sight for nearly 750 meters. In the 1980s the asphalt path followed the length of the wall until Teufelsbruchwiesen (lower left portion of the map). At this point the Wall continued off to the south, and the actual border was defined only by a fence, allowing a less-obstructed view into the border area of the GDR. Once around the bottom of Eiskeller, the path turned north again and followed the unsecured GDR-enclave of Kienhorst. On the northern perimeter of Kienhorst were two small roads with garden bungalows. Immediately after the easternmost of these was one of my points of entry (POE) to the GDR.
The other POE represented a much more dangerous option and was located at what was once (and is now again) a bridge at the point where West Berlin met the GDR (to the right of “OGS Schoenwalder Allee” in the upper right-hand corner of the map). This point of entry actually required scaling the Berlin Wall. When we used this POE, I was dressed as a lieutenant of the Border Guards.
Whether we used Kienhorst or the crossing point at the Wall, we were always at risk of detection: a small hut (the point marked in blue “Beobachtungspunkt LfV”) – ostensibly a hut belonging to the forestry service – was occasionally manned by West Berlin security personnel. This hut could observe a large open meadow that connected Kienhorst to the rest of the GDR. It was this meadow we needed to carefully navigate if we used the Kienhorst POE.
In either case, we always ran the risk of detection. To increase security, we often entered using the northern POE and exited using Kienhorst, or vice versa.
Kienhorst remains today much as it was in the 1980s. On return trips I was able to quickly find all of the important locations, and old border markers help orient anyone hoping to find the former border.
In the center of Kienhorst was a deep ditch (Beobachtungspunkt) from which my escorts watched my entry. It was there that I changed into uniform before crossing the dangerous meadow. The small break in the trees and underbrush where I once crossed is still unchanged today except for the addition of several blue and orange historical markers (ironically) placed to give tourists and history buffs a short history of Eiskeller’s role in the Cold War.
Today the northern POE is once again open to traffic and a memorial is situated at the exact point of our crossing. Pieces of the Berlin Wall from this location are ‘artistically’ placed alongside an illustrated display beside the road. It is, of course, an odd feeling to return to these once desolate places and walk in your own footsteps. Odder still is the feeling when you find the aluminum can you once used to mark the location of your Dead Drop – still lying there and rusting after a quarter of a century, as if waiting to be used again.
And, in case you are wondering, we were seen on occasion, and not only by our comrades in the Border Guards. In the winter of 1983/84 we were spotted crossing the meadow into Kienhorst. While on the path leading out of Eiskeller, near a large tree that still stands today, I came face to face with two Landrovers full of Irish Rangers racing towards Kienhorst.
Had I left the forest thirty seconds later… Well, you can imagine. I later learned that the British soldiers and my three escorts stood nose to nose in the freezing rain of that cold winter day, staring at each other across a border that existed only on maps, close enough to actually look into the eyes of the enemy.
Eiskeller today has changed with the disappearance of the Wall. The once isolated corner of Berlin is again connected with the Brandenburg hinterlands. The road that once dead-ended at the bridge (and the border) is now clogged with traffic to Falkensee. The asphalt paths that once ran parallel to the border are partially closed or have been claimed as private property. It remains for me a graveyard of sorts, a place where I regularly return to pay my respects to men and events that shaped the course of the Cold War. It is my personal corner of Berlin.