Berlin 1959 photos

Frank da Cruz
2001, 12 February 2021

My family arrived in Frankfurt February 16, 1959, and for some reason my father took us to Berlin for a few days just a week or two later. It was two and a half years before the Wall went up. The weather was wet and foggy most of the time. All of the photos in this gallery were taken with my Brownie Hawkeye box camera, all by me except for the ones I'm in (and the Spandau one).

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Berlin sector sign Like Germany itself, Berlin was divided into four sectors of occupation: American, British, French, Soviet. Berlin was inside the Soviet sector (East Germany, the German Democratic Republic). In 1959, you could walk right through the Brandenburg gate to East Berlin. No checkpoints, no guards. Subways ran back and forth too. If you want to see some good footage from those times, I highly recommend these excellent films:

  • Die Die Mörder sind unter uns (1946), the first postwar German film, and the first Trümmerfilm (rubble film), starring Hildegard Knef and Ernst Wilhelm Borchert.
  • The Big Lift (1950). An extraordinary film, shot entirely on location in the ruins of West and East Berlin, about the Berlin Airlift, filmed only 8 years before I flew into Berlin Tempelhof on a DC-4 airliner, civilian counterpart to the C-54 cargo plane used in the airlift, at age 14 when I took these pictures.
  • Billy Wilder's One, Two, Three, a Cold War comedy filmed in 1961 (I was still in Frankfurt) just before the Wall went up, 2 years after I took these pictures.
And these, filmed on location in the rubble of other German cities and in Vienna shortly after the war:
  • Berlin Express (about 1948), which, despite its name, was filmed in postwar Frankfurt, starring Merle Oberon and Robert Ryan.
  • Decision Before Dawn (1950), about the final months of the war, filmed largely in the ruins of Würzburg, Mannheim, and Nürnberg, a joint US-German-Austrian production. It's amazing how much these places were rebuilt between 1950 and 1959-61, when I saw them.
  • The Third Man with Orson Welles (1949). Filmed in Vienna (Wien), which was also divided into four sectors of occupation, like Austria itself and exactly like Germany.

The Kaiser Wilhelm church ruin was preserved as a reminder of the consequences of war. The Reichstag (parliament building) was burned down by Nazis in 1933 (there is still some controversy about this; do a Web search on "reichstag fire" to find lots of material and draw your own conclusions), then blamed on the Communists as a pretext for suspending civil rights and due process. The Soviet War Memorial commemorates the 20 million people of the Soviet Union who died in the German invasion; placing it in West Berlin was a major public relations coup. It was guarded by a small contingent of Red Army soldiers, who marched in solemn slow motion around it. 2500 Soviet troops are buried here. CLICK HERE for a recent large color photo of the memorial. It's still there, but no more Red Army.

Berlin Mitte und die Welt – wie sie einmal war 1914-1989,
P.J. Ortmann, published by the author (2009) (has one of my photos in it).

Also see:  
Berlin 1961-62 Gallery (contributed by Robert C. Paul).

Offsite links:  
Soviet War Memorial (Tiergargen)
Soviet War Memorial (Treptow)

Berlin 1959 Photos / Frank da Cruz / / Created 2001. Most recent update: 4 July 2022

Created by Photogallery 3.11 October 2, 2021