First the entry my mother made in her diary for that day. Events were definitely heating up:
“Day 5 Wednesday 25. April 1945
Early in the morning out off bed at once. There will be an extra ration of Schnaps: 1/2 a bottle of Korn ( Vodka) plus 1 kg of sugar per head. The bombardment is becoming shorter and louder. A sign that the enemy is coming closer. Everyone is getting more restless.
Around lunchtime a piece of shrapnel went into the apothecary ( at Manfred-von-Richthofen Strasse) and killed the pharmacist outright ( we lived near the airport and many streets around there had names of famous WW I pilots. berlioz). We knew him quite well.
From our building, two bodies were taking away. They were Herr Wagner our greengrocer and a child. The relatives have to dig their graves – very creepy indeed. In Katzbach Strasse lay 5 dead soldiers, they have been hit by shrapnel We now have to go more often into the shelter to seek cover.
In the afternoon, a grenade slammed into the fourth story, Nr. 28. The whole courtyard is covered in a cloud of dust. From now on hit after hit all around us and we have to seek cover in the air-raid-shelter.
In the evening, Russian bombers attacked our district (Kreuzberg) for 2 hours. Our building suffered extensive damage from the percussion of the explosions. The entry door to the flat, the kitchen door and the French doors to the balcony were almost torn from their hinges.
One is becoming depressed and weary. Everyone is crouched on his or her chair with morbid thoughts. They are all very much afraid. Sleep is out of the question, only at about 3 o’clock in the morning dare we sleeping in our beds.
At 5 o’clock heavy artillery fire awakens us.”
We might get more and more restless, but when it comes to sugar, even I can be spared and sent on an errand. “Go and get the sugar”, said my Mum and I did not question her. The front line could be in the next street. The day before the front was only 2 km away. But for sugar there is no tomorrow. I could not go to a local shop but had to walk about 1.5 km over a very long railway bridge. My Mum had no idea about the strategic value of such a bridge – and neither had I.
Spring in 1945 was especially beautiful as if nature wanted to compensate for the foolishness of men. Maybe nature wanted to tell us, “STOP all this nonsense and enjoy ME”. The weather was mild and flowers and blossoms everywhere. I had to walk through the Victoria Park, named in honour of Vicky ( daughter of Queen Victoria) our former Empress). I was not in a hurry and looked around in the park, as I liked the trees and all stuff green.
Coming out of the park and back into the street I noticed it was very quiet and hardly any person in the street. Everyone was probably queuing somewhere or sitting in their shelter reciting “Our Father…..”.
After about 250 m I approached the bridge. The bridge is very long, as underneath is a very wide railway corridor with many tracks leading south, from two railway stations, out of the city. I was always proud of the bridges across the railway as my father had told me, his father, my Grandfather, had built them all. My Dad liked to exaggerate in those things. He meant Grandad took part in building them. Perhaps Dad was showing his pride.
So, I walked over the bridge, no soul was to be seen. I know now that in those times all bridges were wired for demolition in case the enemy wanted to use them. But then, I was oblivious of that fact. When I reached the middle I looked to the north were the Anhalter Bahnhof was. I heard machine gun fire and saw puffs of smoke where artillery shells hit buildings, all the while grenades whistling over my head as they headed for the inner city. So, that was where the enemy was and the battle raged.
Coming off the bridge I had maybe another 100 – 150 m to walk. I arrived at the grocery store without any trouble. Not many people were in there and no queue outside. Soon the lady behind the counter asked me my wishes….. Then it happened! A whistling sound and a mighty explosion followed, the whole apartment building was shaking in its foundations. We thought the whole building was going to collapse. Everything was instantly covered by a big white cloud of dust. The woman behind the counter came out and grabbed me and we rushed into the air raid shelter in case more shells would hit the building.
But that was it. The dust settled, the people quietened down and we left the shelter. There was debris everywhere, everything inside the building and outside on the street was covered in dust and debris. We went back into the shop and the kind lady handed me the sugar with the words,’ Here, you earned it!’
I left the shop and went on my way home. Once again, I went over the bridge. But this time I noticed, high in the sky, a Russian fighter plane. It just circled around in the blue sky. He had no worries as the German Luftwaffe did not exist anymore.
But he had the order to keep an eye on the bridge, in case one of those fanatical Hitler Youth attempted to blow it up. That was his mission and by jolly, I fitted the bill and he was coming down on me.
The plane dipped down and I could hear the howling sound as it headed towards me. I started to run as I did not have the other option, to fight. I was running towards the end of the bridge where there were buildings providing cover.
I think, I was lucky that the plane came from a very great height as he must have been watching a second bridge a further 500 m west – made famous later in Wim Wender’s film “Wings of Desire” – plus he did not want to be in the firing line of the artillery shells that were hurdling for the city centre.
I ran and I ran, clutching my sugar. Coming towards the end of the bridge I spotted a woman heading for the same thoroughfare to a warehouse. All the time that whining noise was increasing as the plane came closer and closer. The woman and I just reached the building at the last moment, with its thoroughfare for shelter. The pilot started to fire his machine gun and the bullets hit the cobblestones. The plane was right in the middle of the street, between the houses at the height of the third story. He pulled his plane up just in time or he would have crashed into the pavement himself.
When the dive-bomber was gone we continued on our own, separate ways. I don’t think anything was said by both of us. I was soon home and handed over the sugar. I told my story but no one made a fuss and soon it was forgotten – it was just one of those things. But it is still remembered seventy years later.
My mother mentioned the death of our pharmacist. I think it was the same day my Great-aunt Mietze came home (I have no idea why she was out and about) and reported that she saw people cutting up a dead horse in front of the pharmacy.
We had the feeling it could not take much longer before the soldiers of the Red Army would arrive.