Demolishing the Cold War Past End of the Road for Historic Rest Stop

The Michendorf rest stop used to be the last stop in East Germany before West Berlin. Local conservationists have tried to save it, but on Monday it will be demolished to make way for a highway expansion.

Checkpoint Charlie wasn't the only place where east met west.

Checkpoint Charlie wasn't the only place where east met west.

It was a sort of official crack in the Berlin Wall, one of the few places where East Germans could meet West Germans. Now it's doomed to demolition. The Michendorf rest stop on the outskirts of Berlin is to be knocked down next Monday to make way for an expanded highway.

During the Cold War it had been a place where West Berliners driving through East Germany could grab a cheap bite or share a beer with some East Germans before crossing the border into the US sector of the divided city.

The rest stop, with its gas station and restaurant, became a popular spot for East and West Germans to meet up with friends and family who lived on the other side of the Berlin Wall. Another attraction for West Berliners was the prices: a pork steak with herb butter, peas and fries only cost 3.95 in both deutsche marks and East German marks. (In deutsche marks, by 1989, that was about two dollars.)

Bärbel Grossmann of the local historical society in Michendorf told SPIEGEL ONLINE that they had tried to have the rest stop turned into a museum in 2000, but "it was too late." Plans to expand the A10 highway had been approved, and it was now impossible to list the site as a protected building. Local conservationists had only realized the importance of the rest stop in 1998. Marie-Luise Buchinger of the Brandenburg Protection of Historical Monuments Office told the Märkische Allgemeine newspaper that by then, "demolition plans were so far ahead that they couldn’t be revoked."

The Michendorf historical society did manage to collect material from the rest stop, including menus and photographs, which were displayed in an exhibition at a local museum a few years ago. The society is now compiling a brochure to chronicle the history of the building, which was built in 1938 in the style of an old German country house.

Grossmann is sorry to see this "historically valuable" place destroyed. "It is also sad for us personally. Many of us used to meet our relatives there." Grossmann's brother, for example, lived in the West.

The rest stop was also an important employer, with 120 East Germans working both there and in the adjoining Intershop -- government-run stores where quality goods could be purchased with foreign currency. "All of the employees had to be screened by the Stasi first," Grossmann says. "Anyone with close relatives in the West was unlikely to get a job there."

The last guests were served at the Michendorf rest stop on Tuesday of this week. Then, at 2 p.m., manager Cornelia Wirth, who began her working life there as a waitress 34 years ago, shut the door for the last time.



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