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Neil MacGregor examines the story of the two Germanys, East and West, created in 1949, through objects including a wetsuit used in an escape attempt from the East in 1987.

Neil MacGregor examines the story of the two Germanys, East and West, created in 1949, through objects including a wet suit used in an escape attempt from the East in 1987, which was later used as a training device by the Stasi, the East German secret police.

Neil also focuses on another Stasi training device, a model of Friedrichstrasse Station, a border crossing point in the divided Berlin, and reflects on the life and work of the East German writer Christa Wolf.

Her novel Der Geteilte Himmel - The Divided Heaven, or The Divided Sky - was published in 1963, two years after the Berlin Wall went up. It made Christa Wolf's reputation, and has been seen as the definitive account of the divergence of the two Germanys, as seen from the East. Yet Wolf's own position within the East German state was not simple, and she later questioned whether her own memories were reliable.

Producer Paul Kobrak.

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15 minutes

Model of Friedrichstraße Station

Model of Friedrichstraße Station
Berlin's underground and overground rail systems intersected above all at the Friedrichstraße Station. It was here that most German people travelling in a divided Berlin had to cross from one side to the other.

The process was meticulously controlled and governed, above all on the Eastern side, by a determination to prevent escape and to keep a very close eye on those who were allowed to come in.

This intriguing object, a cross between a model railway and a doll’s house, is doubly disturbing because it looks at first sight like a plaything. Only later do you realize it has a very grown up purpose: to train border guards in their duties.

Photograph © Deutsches Historisches Museum.

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