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Wartime Berlin – an international city, underground

Berlin had been transformed in many ways by the war. The city already lay in ruins and the threat of further bombing was ever present.

As the Nazis tried to find every last German to send to the front, the war economy was sustained by millions of forced labourers, brought from every corner of occupied Europe. Journalist Ursula von Kardorff was still keeping her diary, noting every aspect of life in wartime:30 November 1944 The Friedrichstrasse station, with its broad stairways, which lead to a kind of underworld, is supposed to be bomb-proof. It is all rather as I imagine Shanghai to be. Ragged, romantic-looking characters in padded jackets, with high, Slav cheekbones, mixed with fair-haired Danes and Norwegians, smartly turned-out Frenchwomen, Poles casting looks of hatred at everybody, fragile, chilly Italians — a mingling of races such as can never before have been seen in any German city. The people down there are almost all foreigners and one hardly hears a word of German spoken. Most of them are conscripted workers in armaments factories. All the same they do not strike one as being depressed. Many of them talk loudly and cheerfully, laugh, sing, swap their possessions and do a little trading and live in accordance with their own customs. As a matter of necessity – and not out of kindness — canteens have been set up for them, they have stage shows and even their own newspapers. Everybody knows everybody else. Girls go from table to table and young men, wearing bright scarves and their hair long, wander to and fro. Here and there a few people are given the cold shoulder, probably because they are spies or detectives. They say that the foreign workers are very well organized indeed. It seems that there are agents among them, officers sent in by the various resistance movements, who are well supplied with arms and have wireless transmitters. Otherwise how could the Soldatensender [ a propaganda radio station broadcast from Britain] be so up to date with its news and how could ‘Gustav Siegfried Eins” be able to interlard its rubbish with so much that is true? They end their news bulletins with the words, ‘That was the Chief speaking.’ These stations are far more eagerly listened to by us here than all the broadcasts from the House of the German Radio. There are twelve million foreign workers in Germany — an army in itself.See Ursula von Kardorff: Diary of a nightmare: Berlin, 1942-1945.

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