The map above is one of our favourites. It shows (or rather doesn’t show) West Berlin in 1988. It was published in East Germany just one year before the fall of the Berlin Wall.
On the surface the map is clearly ridiculous and wouldn’t have fooled anyone. However, it also reveals a deeper truth about life in East Germany prior to the fall of the wall. While Western Berliners and West Germans could visit East Berlin, West Berlin was off-limits for virtually all East German citizens.
Therefore, this map is accurate, in its own way, at least from the perspective of an East German citizen. For most people living in East Berlin or East Germany, West Berlin may as well have not existed, because for all practical purposes it was impossible to visit.
This is discussed humorously in the following Maps men video:
For more on East Germany and the Berlin Wall have a look at the following books:
- The Berlin Wall: A World Divided
- Letters Over The Wall: Life in Communist East Germany
- The East German Handbook
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Victor John Morton says
Curious whether broader East German maps of Europe had a similar white hole between Holland and Unsere Deutsche Demokratische Republik…
Tom Ross says
I think you are over-interpreting one kind of map which did not show any foreign territories. Can you show the border to Poland on that same map?
East and West Germany started a process of normalization after 1972. East Germany saw the West as a antagonistic neighboring country, no more or less. There were diplomatic relations and people travelling on official business. West Germans we’re allowed to visit the east as often as they pleased. The other way around, it wasn’t nearly as easy, but millions of East-German pensioners were allowed free travel to the west. Those under retirement age were allowed to visit for rare family occasions.
Jordan Harbinger says
I’m new so maybe this is obvious to everyone but the biggest reason for this (the giant hole) is to give absolutely no information to anyone in E Germany about the layout (or ways into) West Berlin. I lived in former E Germany in the 90s and lots of maps had virtually no detail, government areas were just gray boxes and other countries were seldom mapped at all (I mean, access to those maps was privileged/difficult back in the day from what I’ve heard.)
Also, during a summer in Ukraine, I remember learning that finding detailed maps of the Soviet union’s cities was damn near impossible. This was deliberate and born of the paranoia of the leadership.
I’ve also been to North Korea and finding detailed maps of Pyongyang was so difficult I eventually just gave up. It seems even locals haven’t really seen them either and don’t know parts of the city where they don’t live or work.
Martin Lunnon says
I have a similar map of “Berlin, die Hauptstadt der DDR” (or some similar title) from much the same period – bought either in 1987 or Dec 1989 just after the Mauerfall. There are outlines of the main roads in West Berlin – without names – but nothing else.
Christian Palme says
Thousands of East Germans actually were allowed to visit West Germany and West Berlin. In particular retired people could make regular shopping trips across the border, where they could also pick up a small yearly grant, the “begrüssungsgeld” from West Germany. This army of senior citizens with wheeled carts full of electronics and food were a familiar sight at all border crossings in the 70’s and 80’s. It was also possible to get a permit to travel to visit relatives, or to go to family events like weddings and funerals in the West. Certainly there were East Germans who would never get a permit, like doctors, researchers, army officers or persons employed in sensitive positions.
“Germany has successfully erased any traces of the Berlin Wall”, you say. In fact, there is plenty of information on the streets around the ex-wall, explaining exactly where it was and with many photographs from that time.
Parts of it have zero significance as a political boundary anymore, though. Berlin reformed its’ boroughs around the turn of the millennium and there are several that combine former east and west boroughs. The external border between what was West Berlin and Potsdam (and points north) still is the state line between the city-state of Berlin and Brandenburg.