INT: Right. Now August 13th - you woke up that morning and discovered that the border was closed. Now can you tell me what your first feelings were when you discovered that this barrier was going up, and what you did? First of all, how did you feel when you realized that the border had been closed?
MH: Well, I think it was really... my first feeling was a personal one, because my sister that summer had stayed with my aunt in... just outside of East Berlin, which I think, thinking in retrospect, I think she wasn't really allowed to, because we were only allowed to go to East Berlin and not to East Germany. If you wanted to go to East Germany, you needed this permit, which was quite difficult to get. But they lived just outside of East Berlin, and as it was a child - my sister was quite a bit younger than me - they probably just thought, "It doesn't really matter." And as I woke up ... my father actually woke me up and said, "You know, they closed the border," and I didn't understand what he was saying. It was... incomprehensible - you know, it was so strange. And then my mother came in crying, and my older sister, and we were thinking, you know, how do we get my sister back? Telephone links were cut; you couldn't phone. So in the end, I think my father went to the police station, and the police phoned around, and then they told my parents to go to Friedrichstrasse and try, you know, to sort this out. So we all took the S-Bahn, and it was an absolute chaos in Friedrichstrasse, it was terrible: people crying, shouting; some were frightened, some were angry, some wanted to go from East to West, some from West to East. Some looked for their relations, like we did. It was utter chaos. And I just remember I'm so frightened - I thought, "We'll never see my sister, she's lost," so to speak. And it took quite a long time until my father somehow found somebody to talk to, some official, and we discovered that my aunt actually was also in Friedrichstrasse with my sister, trying exactly the same from her side. And in the end, you know, after a huge sort of paperwork, and my father, who had a very short temper, sort of starting to have a rather sort of shorter temper as usual, and my mother was worrying that he would lose his temper and then my sister would not be allowed to leave ... but in all this chaos it didn't really matter somehow - you know, there was so much upheaval that I think the only way to somehow keep sane was trying to retreat into yourself. And in the end we did manage to get my sister back. And when you drive with the S-Bahn from Friedrichstrasse to my parents' house in Marienfeder, you had to drive through two stations still in East Berlin, where the train didn't stop: it was Unter den Linden, and I can't remember what the other one was, where the train just went through. But on these stations there were all soldiers with machineguns. It was very frightening, really frightening. And only when we arrived in Papestrasse, which is now proper West Berlin, we were so relieved, really relieved - it was like the feeling of having escaped some danger. And in comparison, you know, it was a small incident. There were much more heart rendering [sic] situations. But the fear was there.
INT: Right. Can I just go into a little detail... of the other people at Friedrichstrasse? You were waiting there for a long time... What were other people doing? If you could tell me about how they were saying goodbye, and possibly they had the feeling that they would never see each other again. If you just describe the scene about other people. You said it was chaos. If you could describe it in a little bit more detail, what people were doing, what was happening to them.
MH:, well, most of them in some ways wanted to contact the authorities, because they wanted either to get somebody back to [the] West or the other way, or they had somebody from East Berlin who had that weekend stayed. My cousin's husband - now the husband - lived in East Berlin and studied in West Berlin, and he, that morning, decided to go back because his mother was still living in East Berlin. So he was obviously also there, trying frantically to say, you know, "I actually live in East Berlin." But it took all a very long time, because the authorities could not make up their mind, you know, how to sort this out. I think the soldiers and the police, or whoever was in charge there, weren't well sort of drilled for this. You know, it was...
INT: What was there an expectation, then, for instance with your sister's husband, who was going back to East Berlin...?
MH: My cousin's husband...
INT: Cousin's husband. I mean, did they expect to see each other again, was there a feeling that they would never see each other again? Can you describe to me what that meant, to be standing there in West Berlin, going back to East Berlin, and not knowing what was going to happen in the future - can you describe how that felt to them?
MH: Well, I think you decided already what you are going to do before you actually went to Friedrichstrasse. Eberhardt, my cousin's husband now, and his brother were at a party that weekend in West Berlin, and the two brothers were discussing it, what they are going to do, and they decided amongst each other that Eberhardt would go back and the other one would stay. And they said goodbye to each other, because they thought they will not see each other for a long time. I don't think anybody realized how long that would have been, but we thought it will be quite a long time - not 10 years, but maybe a few years. So it was a very important decision to make, you know, because you did realize this step you couldn't easily retract, you could not go back. And I think that was the whole atmosphere also... in Friedrichstrasse, the people there had decided, but the chaos then occurred with the authorities who weren't equipped to deal with all this. There was a lot of emotions, people crying because the relations from East Berlin who had stayed that weekend in West Berlin with their friends, like in the case of my cousin's husband... everybody realized, you know, that's reasonably final, and you cried. There was anger, people were shouting with the authorities, they were shouting with each other because of anxiety. This feeling of... I thought at the time this must be something like the beginning of a revolution - you know, like... because I always liked history, and I thought maybe this was like the start of the French Revolution. People were pushed so much that you thought they won't accept it anymore, they will actually sort of protest, but in one huge wave. But of course, tdidn't; they just sort of... they saw it from their own personal experience only, not as a whole, as a sort of political situation. I think it wasn't political... it was not a posituation at that time, it was purely human. People worried, they suffered, they were angry because they suffered, but didn't connect it to some whole political unit, what is happening to the country. That came later.
INT: Right. Now... you said that there was a lot of fear. What in fact did people think, what did you think...? When you say there was fear at the time, on the 13th again... what did people fear might happen once the barbed wire had gone up, what did people fear was likely to be the next step, especially perhaps by the Russians?
MH: Well, I think it was probably the reaction "What is going to happen then?" in a wider political sense, "What will the Russians do, what will America do?" But you have to see that also in the context of the whole, because West Berliners have lived with that fear for quite a while, since 1945, so in a way it wasn't something totally new. I remember when there was very little reaction coming first from America, Kennedy being on holiday and not reacting, there was anger. We all felt "They are dropping us like a hot cake." You know, "They don't care about us, they don't do anything." All this sort of talk about West Berlin, the sort of "front-line island", was just a propaganda thing, and now they are turning away because it's too risky to do something. And I think that also explains then the totally different reaction when Kennedy actually came, quite a bit later, to Berlin, that people were absolutely jubilant. But these first few days, I think the town was rather subdued. We were so scared. And I think generally, people thought, "That's it," you know, "we will now be part of the GDR" and lost our sort of freedom. I talked later, many years later, to my cousin, and she explained to me the eastern side: they were angry, they were just very, very angry. She said she thought it was disgusting, a state who locks in its population. And, I mean, you have to remember... how old was I then? Sort of 17, something like that, 16-17, so you know, you're pretty aware of what is going on around you. And she said she, at the time, decided, and said to her family, "I will manage to go across," and the family of course convinced her that that isn't very easy - and as time passed, it got more and more difficult anyway. But she said there was an enormous amount of anger. You felt that Big Brother was treating you, everyone, like a child, telling you, "This is good for you, because I know better." And there was anger. And that was different from the West: in the West there was fear, you know, the feeling of helplessness.
INT: Did it also feel dangerous? There were a lot of armed troops around on the border, there were tanks, there were water cannon - was there a sense of it also being dangerous? And indeed the fact that they were all armed, the troops... were you aware of a sense of danger when the troops were there?
MH: You mean the Russian troops?
INT: Yes... well, the East German...
MH: Because the western ones kept very quiet.
INT: Yes. No, I'm talking about the East German troops who were sort of over the border, but they were actually guarding the border. Was there a sort of sense of danger as well? I mean, that became occupied, it was occupied ...
MH: Yes, yes. My sister told me... she stayed with my aunt that night, my aunt lives in a sort of suburb where a lot of Russian barracks are based, and Gabi woke up by this rumble, and the whole night the Russian tanks passed the village road, straight into the town center. Hundreds... she said there were hundreds and hundreds of tanks, a whole endless line of tanks streaming in. And of course, it's very scary, you know, because you feel you're not in control, somebody is taking over. ... I think the fear on the West, in the western side, was that there will be no reaction from America, from the Western Allies, and because there is no reaction, then the tanks will roll across and occupy the whole of the city, and there is nothing we could do, neither West Germany nor West Berlin; we have to resign [ourselves] to the fact that we then will be part of the GDR.
INT: Right. Now did you feel that Willy Brandt... was Willy Brandt's role at that time something which you were conscious of? Did you feel that he rallied the population, or did you see him in fact at any of the speeches that he made?
MH: Well, in those days it was rather more radio, so you listened to the radio, and he did try to calm people down and try to say, you know, "We are safe. America will come to our aid." And... it was quite funny when I read later, in his memoirs, how difficult it was for him, because on one side he tried to calm the population down, and on the other side he tried frantically to get help. So... but there was generally... the political establishment in West Berlin tried not only to sort of calm the population, but they also sort of organized in case it would happen, what to do next. But that, of course... you know, as a normal sort of citizen, you wouldn't know, but there was definitely, through television and radio, a constant reminder that we are not lost and there will be help and something will happen. But in a way I think people were not convinced that this might happen - they hoped it, but they weren't sort of convinced.