Michael Cramer

* 1949  

  • “So, for example, when I was taking my tour of the wall - Checkpoint Charlie. An elderly man came and said: ‘Mr. Cramer, do you really know why it’s called the Checkpoint Charlie?’ I said: ‘No’. ‘I'll tell you. This comes from the U.S. military alphabet. As we say A as Anton, B as Berta, they say A as Alpha, B - Bravo, C – Charlie’. And Point Alpha was just the first - the most westerly - Checkpoint. Then there was checkpoint Bravo, the Bravo in ‘Unter den Linden’. It was called Checkpoint Bravo and it is also a part of the exhibit today in the Watchtower Museum. Checkpoint Charlie was just another one. I also learned a lot of other things in this way. For example that there used to be listening devices in the trees in front of Drei Linden. Whoever was making an escape attempt and said for example: ‘listen, now we are at the border, you’ve got to be quiet now’, or something of the sort, would be bugged and then their car would be examined closely or something along these lines. So basically, on these tours you got a whole lot of testimonies of the witnesses and that's important. The tour is often taken by young people and by Berliners from east and west, who say: ‘oh, I’ve never been here before’. Yes, it works like this.”

  • “In West Berlin, you had a situation where we just didn’t know any directions. Whether it was north, south or west, everywhere there was east. You could say it was the largest island in a big sea. Many even didn’t make it there – at least that was welcome and then further intensified. I was in Ennepetal in the football club. The TuS Ennepetal drove to West Berlin in 1963 and for this trip, my aunt gave me a camera. This was the first camera I had and I took my very first photos on the Bernauer Street. At one end of the Bernauer Street, at that time, there was a podium from which you could take a look at the other side. And there also was the striking corner building on the Eberswalder Street that I remember. Since that time I remember that every time I came to Berlin I would go to the wall and see if it had changed. We would go on school trips to Berlin when we were in the Unterprima. The flight was subsidized and cost only 45 marks – hard to imagine these days. I would go to these places to see how the wall had changed. For example, initially the houses in the Bernauer Street belonged to the east but the sidewalk and the driveway belonged to the west. But the houses that were right adjacent to the sidewalk belonged to the east. In the beginning, all the windows and doors in the first four stories were covered with bricks which virtually formed the wall. The houses were later demolished, leaving only the facades like a wall until the 1980s, when they were replaced by modern segments of the wall – a sort of ‘strip modernism’. It was things like these made me occupy myself with the wall.”

  • “And all the studies have shown that bicycle tourists spend more money than auto drivers. Because when it started 20 or 25 years ago, for instance on the Danube Bike Path, everybody would shout: ‘no, build it on the other side, we don’t want it here. These are pupils, students, poor devils, they have no money to spend anyway’. Or the hotel owners: ‘No, we want a family that had booked three years in advance and that is staying four weeks and not just one day’. Today, it’s quite the opposite. They’re fighting for it to be on their side of the border. Because they’ve realized the economic benefits of it - the biking-tourism industry has arrived. And they’re all trying to get the trail lead through their town. And I say: ‘No, because the route has to match these and these criteria’. Those interested will get a yellow arrow and then you can travel there but I can’t make the trail lead through 500 extra places and take numerous detours because that would make the trail a thousand kilometers longer. But why is it that the cyclists spend more money? One reason, of course, is that you cannot pack all the things that you would want to have with you. And maybe even more importantly, after a day spent cycling, you’re proud of yourself and you want to reward yourself. You’re not trying to save on every Euro. You want to reward yourself because you find yourself just great. Rarely do you find yourself as great as when you’ve cycled all-day long. But it’s slowly dawning on them. For example, Hungary has since invested and now they’re at two percent of investment into bicycle infrastructure. The average in Europe is 0.7% and Hungary has 2%. The Czech Republic has a huge advantage because it has hundreds of kilometers of the old patrol roads (Kolonnenweg), all of which were paved with concrete and lead along the border. This was where I ran into difficulties because the trail could not possibly lead all the way on the Czech side, although the right infrastructure was already in place there. But it was necessary to have stretches of it on the other side of the border as well. And it works. But they soon realized the economic benefits in the Czech Republic as well. It differs from region to region, but mostly they realize the economic potential.”

  • “The Wall Trail (Mauerweg) today has 900 information boards and signposts, it is cyclist-friendly and has developed into a major tourist attraction because 80 percent of the tourists who come to Berlin come because of history. That’s why the project was able to become profitable economically. But for me the main purpose has always been to make history visible and make sure it won’t be forgotten. Because there is such a slogan: ‘Only those who know their past will master their future’. I like to say this slogan to my students. The all want to master the future and therefore they have to look at the past in order to ensure that history will not repeat itself. Yes, that was the story behind it. When I was elected to the European Parliament in 2004, this was one of my first reports, ‘Sustainable Tourism’. The rapporteur was a Portuguese and he said: ‘Yes, but we also want to create a little bit of a European identity’. I said: ‘You know, it’s difficult. Take a look at me. I’m a proud Westphalian who became a Berliner and who’s making European policy for Germany. But the division of Europe affected us all. No matter where we lived, whether we were far away or close to the Wall in Berlin, it influenced all of us and the European identity was created by the peaceful revolutions that ended this division. Thus not only Berlin, Germany and Europe, but the whole world has changed since’. Then I made a request to basically expand the model of the Wall Trail to cover the rest of Europe and I received the support of a vast majority of the MPs from all fractions and countries and I worked on it.”

  • “The culture of remembrance is definitely on the rise. Ten years ago, they said that the wall has to go in Berlin. Now, it’s all different and the Wall Trail is much appreciated by all. So yes, it has a lot to do with the fact that they’re beginning to understand that the more tourists come here, the bigger – I have to mention it again – the economic effect. I would personally have wished rather for an intellectual effect than just looking at money, but at least they get the message that it’s important. And also because certain actors indeed are not always there – it was difficult for some of the mayors. For example, the memorial stones - when two locations were combined and then the site was festively opened, the mayors of the places would come together to inaugurate the memorial. Most of the initiative came from the West, because in the East it sometimes happened that it was still the same mayor as before the wall had come down. But in those cases where the mayors had changed already, they responded and took part in the project and that was really exciting. Or at the border with Lower Saxony, the border strip has been preserved and on the western side you have all these boards with information and signposts. So if you’re there and you come to the eastern side where there are basically no boards at all, then you realize that there was a different approach there, but maybe that will change, too.”

  • “The watchtowers are both still there, the fence - the Iron Curtain - 1.5 km of it have been preserved and the dog-run areas are represented as well. I met a man who had worked for 40 years in the federal border-protection authority on the western side and the man accompanied me and my class from Frankfurt, when we were taking the tour in the autumn holidays. Our tour was along the former border in Hesse and we were accompanied by him for the whole day. We biking and I asked him if he knew a different route because we didn’t want to go on the busy road with heavy traffic. He told me about a different way and that way is now also well documented in the book. In any case, it happened that when I met that man again some time later, he told me: ‘Mr. Cramer, there were some school kids here on a school trip and a smart kid asked me: ‘I can understand that you can’t get over the fence, but one can walk around the outside’. I told him: ‘No! This fence was 1393 km long!’ And the whole class went: ‘Oh’. I'm telling you this story just because it’s sometimes hard for us – those who lived in those times and experienced it – to even imagine that there are younger generations that are struggling to picture this reality.”

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    Berlin, 18.08.2013

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    nahrávka pořízena v rámci projektu Iron Curtain Stories
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And now my task is to make sure that Europe becomes united

Cramer hochkant.jpg (historic)
Michael Cramer
zdroj: 1989, Privatarchiv Michael Cramer/ aktuell, Privatarchiv Michael Cramer

Michael Cramer was born in the middle of West Germany in 1949 and already as a child he came into contact with the issue of the division of Germany through the friends of his parents. After he completed his studies in Mainz, he moved to West Berlin, where he lived very close to the wall and he also repeatedly made trips to the eastern part of the city. He worked as a teacher and in 1989, he was voted to the German parliament for the Greens where he devoted himself predominantly to issues of transport and traffic policy. His initiative of the “Berlin-Wall Trail” – a bicycle route along the former Berlin Wall – dates back to this period. After he was elected to the European Parliament in 2004, he expanded this initiative to encompass all of Europe and called it the “Iron Curtain Trail”, a 9000 kilometer-long bicycle path along the former Iron Curtain. He has already biked large parts of this trail himself as since 1979 Cramer hasn’t owned an automobile.