Berlin at War

Free Berlin at War by Roger Moorhouse

Book: Berlin at War by Roger Moorhouse Read Free Book Online
Authors: Roger Moorhouse
were not ready for war.
    A Deadly Necessity
    As the people of the German capital accustomed themselves to the reality
    of the war, they also had to come to terms with one of its defining
    features: darkness.
    Blackout regulations were issued on the very first morning of the
    conflict. They stated that all light sources in Berlin were to be extin-
    guished, filtered or shaded during the hours of darkness. Lights in
    shop windows, advertisements, railway stations, buses and trams were
    also to be switched off or covered with a blue filter. All windows and
    doors – from factories to restaurants to homes – were to be shuttered
    and curtained. Skylights and cellar ventilators were to be sealed with
    waxed paper or sandbags. According to the wording of the decree,
    no light was to be visible from a height of 500 metres.1 If the cities
    and towns could not be seen from the air, so the reasoning ran, then
    they could hardly be bombed.
    To minimise the inevitable disruption, a number of additional meas-
    ures were introduced to aid pedestrians. Phosphorescent paint was
    liberally employed: kerbstones, street corners, crossings and assorted
    pavement obstacles were marked with a stripe; steps were painted with
    a zigzag.2 Luminous arrows were painted on walls giving directions to
    the nearest air raid shelter. Scaffolding or earthworks, meanwhile, were
    to be marked by red-filtered lamps.3
    Naturally, Berlin’s road users were targeted with a raft of new rules.
    Their vehicle headlights were to be screened, and only a rectangular
    opening, no larger than five by eight centimetres was permitted. They
    were also informed that they should use their horns more frequently.
    Cyclists, too, were ordered to shield their lights with red cloth or paper.
    Green and blue filters were not permitted for the public, as they were
    the colours used by the police and the fire brigade.4
    a deadly necessity
    William Shirer noted the effect of the new measures in his radio
    broadcast to America on the very first night of the war, 1 September
    1939: ‘It’s just quarter after one in the morning Berlin time’, he said,
    and we’re half way through our first blackout. The city is completely
    darkened, and has been since seven o’clock.
    It’s a little bit strange at first, and takes some getting used to. You
    grope around in the pitch-black streets and pretty soon your eyes get
    used to it, and you can make out the white-washed curbstones – and
    there’s a blue light here and there to guide you – and somehow you
    get along.5
    Though the experience was disquieting, the results were nonethe-
    less impressive. The Berlin press enthused that, on that first night,
    compliance with the blackout had been ‘exemplary’. ‘The 4 million
    inhabitants of the city’, one report swooned, ‘adjusted to the new situ-
    ation with incomparable ease . . . Berlin was ready and the Berliners
    did their duty.’6 Even the city’s contingent of foreign correspondents
    shared this positive judgement. One American reporter noted the
    assessment of a neutral diplomat with experience of both the German
    and the French capitals, who told him that ‘the blackout [in Berlin]
    was one hundred percent, really pitch black . . . By comparison, what
    the French call a “blackout” has left Paris still La Ville Lumière .’7
    One diarist marvelled at the scope and efficacy of the new measure:
    Berlin was a no-city city out there in the black. I could see occasional
    flashes of light from the S-Bahn and the subways. There were noises of
    unseen automobiles passing along the street by the Tiergarten. I even
    heard guttural little scraps of conversation drifting up to me, and saw
    the lighted ends of cigarettes bobbing along the black sidewalk.
    Over there, where the beacon used to flash from the top of the radio
    tower, there was blackness. There were no lights from the apartment
    windows; Berlin was as though some giant had placed a thick blanket
    over it, to

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