Memories of a rare trip behind the Iron Curtain

Intrepid travellers, who visited East Germany during the Cold War, have returned from a 50th anniversary visit.

John Farrier and Steve Waller, on the steps of the town hall
John Farrier and Steve Waller, on the steps of the town hall

Former mayor George Waller was one of four adults who took a group of youths to Eisenhüttenstadt, East Germany, in August 1968. Crawley was twinned with Eisenhüttenstadt, a new town founded in 1950.

Group members Steve Waller and John Farrier, together with their wives, headed back there in October this year.

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“We had a strange feeling of deja vu as we drove into the town after an hour long drive from Berlin,” said Mr Farrier.

The Archive Office in Eisenhuttenstadt. From left: Steve Waller, Loraine Waller, Gabriele Urban, Grete Brynildsen and John Farrier.

“The roads had been improved and the volume of traffic had increased enormously from the time in 1968 when we first visited the town of Eisenhuttenstadt, which was then a closed enclave of the old East Germany behind the iron curtain.

“The basic layout of the town was unchanged, with wide avenues and well laid out blocks of flats no highter than four storeys. Unlike Crawley, there had not been pressure to give up the large areas of green lawn around the centre.

“In fact the town’s population has declined since 1968 from 40,000 to about 26,000 unlike in Crawley.

“However, despite suffering from a downturn in industry, and not have the full effects of a thriving German economy, there seemed to be a peaceful and confident atmosphere in the town. We were well received by the leader of the town’s archive department, who produced the original documents from our visit in in 1968.

John and Steve discussing the story with a reporter from the German press

“A local reporter turned up and in her article about our visit she writes: ‘The town’s archive department usually deals with names and events that are no longer present. That changed when Steve Waller and John Farrier decided to pay a return visit to the town they first visted as teenagers 50 years ago’.

“Both Steve and I were pleased that we’d managed to do the trip and our wives were equally enthusiastic and impressed by how things were when we were there.

“Who knows, we may even return at a later date to see how things are in the former twinning town.”