Berlin was conquered by the Red Army in late April and early May 1945. The houses with
bullet-holes on Helwig-Wilson's pictures, which bear witness to the heavy house-to-house
fighting of 1945, can, in some cases, still be seen today. The Soviet occupation of Berlin
brought to an end National Socialist rule and the Second World War in Europe: Adolf Hitler
committed suicide on 30th April 1945, and the German army supreme command signed the
declaration of unconditional surrender on 7th May.
At that time, Berlin consisted of 20 districts, some of which had only recently (1920)
ceased to be independent municipalities and been formally integrated into the German
However, the creation of Allied sectors did not necessarily imply the division of Berlin
as a city - this happened only gradually, in the course of the Cold War.
While it became increasingly difficult to cross the border between the two Germanies (and
between West Berlin and the GDR), the sectorial borders within Berlin remained more or
less open, since Berlin never legally lost its Four-Power status.
On 17th June 1953, workers went on strike in the East - the only large-scale rise against
Communist rule in East Germany for more than 36 years to come. The two weeks after its
suppression were the first time when access to West Berlin was completely blocked for East
Berliners. However, this measure was soon lifted, leaving people with the impression that
any attempts to seal off West Berlin would not last – a belief which many clung to in the
first weeks of the "Wall" in August 1961. After 1953, hundreds of thousands of Easterners
continued to use Berlin as the easiest escape route to the West. According to East German
propagandists, these people had been systematically "wooed away" by Western espionage
agencies. Although Western business companies did launch campaigns to win qualified
personnel from the East, such propaganda was merely grotesque given the scale of the mass
However, the citizens of both parts of Berlin had direct contact with each other in all kinds of ways, until the "Iron Curtain through Europe" (Churchill) became a concrete wall in 1961. The city trains ("S-Bahn") and the underground ("U-Bahn") continued to cross the sectorial borders. West Berliners went to the lakes in the East for recreation; and as many as 50,000 East Berliners (a statistic from 1961) went to the West to work or study. Many East Berliners occasionally went to the West for shopping, cinema etc. The inhabitants of the rest of the GDR, too, saw Berlin as the easiest chance for them to visit the West. Although, in 1952, the number of crossing points between the Soviet and the Western zones was cut back from 277 to about 80, East-West transit was still quite easy until 1961. Checkpoints were signposted and manned, but people crossing were only spot-checked, particularly those carrying suspiciously large amounts of luggage.
The pictures shown in this section were selected from the many photographs Helwig-Wilson took of the sectorial borders. The aim of the selection is to show the variety of images he captured: everyday scenes in the inner city, well-known landmarks of Berlin, deserted border landscapes on the outskirts of the city.