Fascinating Cold War photos of East and West Berlin

Fascinating photos show what life was like in East and West Berlin at the height of the Cold War

  • British photographer Allan Hailstone snapped pictures in both east and west Berlin between 1959 and 1966 
  • He became entranced by the city and its history after reading about it in his local library in Coventry
  • His pictures include shots of uncleared war rubble, soldiers chatting at a checkpoint and everyday life

Rubble from Second World War devastation lying in the street. Enemy soldiers chatting at a check point. A lone tram photographed through barbed wire.

This is the haunting, eerie city of Berlin at the height of the Cold War, captured on camera in a series of fascinating images by British photographer Allan Hailstone, who visited the east and west sides between 1959 and 1966.   

And now he has put all 180 of his vintage images into a book titled Berlin In The Cold War – and kindly let MailOnline Travel reproduce 10 of them here.

Mr Hailstone said he came upon this remarkable scene in Gendarmenmarkt in the east of Berlin on September 11, 1959. It’s now one of the main tourist squares, which lies just south of Unter den Linden. The ruined church is one of two twin churches in this square. In contrast to the work done to repair war damage in West Berlin, the East German government had not even begun to clear the rubble from the wartime devastation in this square. Gendarmenmarkt was originally constructed around 1688 as Lindenmarkt (the Lime Market). Its two almost identical churches are the French Church and the German Church. The square is also the location of a concert hall

Friedrichstrasse Station pictured on September 12, 1959. The station, in the east of the city, was, and remains, one of the principal railway stations of Berlin serving both the S-Bahn and U-Bahn. During the period of the Berlin Wall, it was the main rail connection to and from the West for non-Germans, who were subject to strict controls when entering or leaving the East. At the time of this shot, anyone could travel by rail or on foot between the two sectors of Berlin while undergoing few, if any, formalities. An advertisement for Neues Deutschland, the principal communist daily newspaper, can be seen on the railway bridge, and the ubiquitous political slogan boards are also in evidence

A shot that looks north along Friedrichstrasse from West Berlin into the East in July 1960. The cyclist is about to cross Zimmerstrasse, along which ran the white line marking the border after Checkpoint Charlie came into force. Mr Hailstone said when he took this shot, he did not appreciate that this location would become world famous and, although many photographs of Checkpoint Charlie now exist, there are probably few which show how this crossing appeared before August 1961

Mr Hailstone, 79, a keen photographer of street scenes from the age of 10, was inspired to visit Berlin after a visit, in 1956, to the library in his home town of Coventry.

He explained: ‘I picked up a slim volume with black covers entitled Berlin. It was an unappealing effort, the very antithesis of what a good guide book should be.

‘However, as I perused its pages, I was fascinated by the grainy black-and-white pictures of the city as it then was.’

Mr Hailstone had already spent time pursuing his hobby of photographing the streets of cities in Britain and Europe.


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But he realised that Berlin was different. It was arising from the ashes of war, locked behind the Iron Curtain and divided into sectors, with each having their own identity – and even, in the case of the Russian sector, its own currency.

The snapper made his first visit to the German capital in 1958 and was captivated by the ‘photogenic streets’ that he has returned to many times since.

In his book Berlin In The Cold War he includes images he recorded between 1959 and 1966, both before and after the building of the Berlin Wall, including several taken surreptitiously of sensitive locations in communist East Berlin.

The ruins of Anhalter Bahnhof, West Berlin, in August 1960. Mr Hailstone says this was one of the more bizarre experiences of his visits to Berlin. He said: ‘I entered the ruin of this railway terminus and discovered a tunnel which I explored. As it was very near the border with the East I imagined with some trepidation that the other end might surface in East Berlin. However, after crawling along it for some time I found that the other end emerged near the border but still in the West. It was later pointed out to me that the tunnel was constructed in 1927 from the station to connect to the basement of the nearby Excelsior Hotel’ 

Potsdamer Platz in East Berlin in August 1960 before the Berlin Wall was built. This faces west in the days when traffic moved freely between West and East Berlin. The Volkswagen vehicles bear West Berlin licence plates. In the background is the ruined Haus Vaterland (Fatherland House), which lay on Eastern territory, with Stresemannstrasse off to the left. Potsdamer Platz and the border with West Berlin is off-camera to the right. Haus Vaterland, built in 1928, was a major entertainment centre housing among other attractions Cafe Piccadilly, the largest cafe in the world. It was demolished in 1976

Potsdamer Platz, for example, much photographed between the wars and now a sleek popular tourist area, was in 1960 a non-descript location rarely photographed. But Mr Hailstone meticulously captured every corner, providing historians with a unique record.

In his book, he writes: ‘Modern visitors will not begin to appreciate the flavour of the way the city felt when divided. I hope that this book will help to provide a taste of those days.’

When the Cold War began, the country was divided into East and West Germany with Berlin (located in the East) itself split up with the west controlled by the US, the UK and France, and the east the Soviets.

At first thousands of people could move freely between the Soviet and Western controlled areas.

Bernauer Strasse, pictured in August 1962, is arguably the most well-known of the locations of the Berlin Wall, and where a number of deaths occurred as a result of people fleeing from the East. The buildings are in East Berlin, whereas the pavement is in the West. Shortly after the Wall was built, refugees used to jump from the windows on to the street below. The authorities then removed the inhabitants of the buildings and bricked up the windows. As can be seen here, one brick space was left open so that the People’s Police could observe the activity in the street below

Mr Hailstone was able to take this shot at Chausseestrasse in East Berlin in August 1962 without being approached by the People’s Police because he was standing about a metre inside West Berlin. He said: ‘The border guards are clearly enjoying their work. The officer standing on this side of the Wall was clearly a very trusted individual, and it is unclear whether the others would have been given orders to shoot him if he had made a run for it’ 

The view of Potsdamer Platz in 1962 looking along Leipziger Strasse, which is where the East Berlin tram can just be made out. Off-camera to the left is the site of Hitler’s bunker. Although Westerners could approach the Berlin Wall up to any distance, East Berliners were kept beyond a control zone which extended approximately up to the position of the tram. The ‘X’ shaped constructions are tank traps. When this shot was taken, from the West, the Berlin Wall was still made of crude blocks topped with barbed wire. Later it was replaced with a more solidly built barrier. The site the photographer is standing on is now the five-star Ritz-Carlton hotel

But the differences between the two areas eventually became stark, with West Berlin evolving into a showcase for the capitalist way of life.

Both western Berlin and West Germany boomed and the rebuilding of the city and country following the Second World War commenced quickly.

However, in the east, the economic situation was not as prosperous with people living there suffering shortages of food and housing and suffering the restriction of individual freedoms.

In order to stop a drain of people from east to west, the communist government in East Berlin decided to erect a wall in 1961 – a physical barrier against defection.

The wall was reinforced with barbed wire to stop people from climbing over and it ran for 91 miles, entirely cutting off West Berlin from the rest of East Germany.

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    Mr Hailstone came upon this motorcade purely by chance while walking along the Kurfuerstendamm, and needed to be very quick with his camera. Robert Kennedy was in Berlin to mark the first anniversary of U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s famous ‘I am a Berliner’ speech on 26 June 1963, and gave a speech from the same platform. Robert Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles in June 1968. Willy Brandt, the mayor of West Berlin at the time, right, later became Chancellor of West Germany

    Unter den Linden in East Berlin at Christmas 1964. This shot looks westwards towards the Brandenburger Tor from the approximate location of the present-day Hotel Adlon. The pre-war Adlon was one of the great hotels of Europe, but was largely destroyed in 1945. At the time of this photograph the remains of the hotel, still functioning, lay off-camera to the left of the pillar clock, and the edifice was so near to the Berlin Wall that the windows on the western side were heavily festooned with metal bars. Otto-Grotewohl-Strasse was named after the first East German Prime Minister, who died three months before this photograph was taken

    Soldiers were ordered to patrol the wall to stop anybody from crossing and would shoot those attempting to escape. 

    It is believed at least 260 people died while trying to escape from east to west.

    One of them included teenager Peter Fechter who was shot in the pelvis by guards as he tried to escape East Berlin.

    His body was left tangled in a barbed wire fence and he bled to death as hundreds of horrified witnesses – including journalists – looked on. 

    How Berlin looks in the present day, more than 50 years on since the Cold War and almost 30 since the fall of the Berlin Wall 

    But as he was inside the Soviet sector, American soldiers were unable to go and rescue him. It’s thought that the guards on the east side were possibly too afraid of being shot to help him – the climate of fear and paranoia at the time was intense.

    Some people were given permission to cross into West Berlin but would have to do so at checkpoints.

    The most famous was Checkpoint Charlie, which is now a museum in the city.

    The Berlin Wall remained in place from 1961 until 1989 when, after months of rising tension in East Germany, the Berlin Wall burst open on November 9.

    Thousands rushed immediately to border crossings after a communist East German government leader told a news conference that travel to the West was to be allowed.

    Huge numbers of East Berliners gathered at check points demanding to be let across and the vastly outnumbered guards realised they had no choice but to allow them through.

    East and West Germany were eventually reunited 11 months later in 1990.

    Berlin in the Cold War by Amberley Publishing, which includes 180 images Mr Hailstone recorded between 1959 and 1966, both before and after the building of the Berlin Wall

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