BOECKWITZ, Germany (AP) — Friedrich-Wilhelm Lenz was only a toddler when the wall went up that split his family’s 75-hectare (185-acre) farm in two — dividing the cow stall and even a restaurant on the land.
It was 1952, and East German authorities were erecting the wooden barrier that broke up the twin towns of Zicherie in the capitalist West and Boeckwitz in the communist East. The two had operated as one for centuries — sharing markets, schools and social clubs — and had long been the site of the Lenz family farm.
Years before the collapse of the Berlin Wall — whose 25th anniversary falls on Sunday — East Germany had already started sealing off its main frontier with West Germany, spanning nearly 1,400 kilometers (870 miles), dividing communities, friends and even families.
The Lenz family keenly felt the trauma of division. The East German authorities seized their property and forced them to relocate to another town on the communist side of the border. They didn’t like it and were able to move to the part of their property that remained in Zicherie in 1960.
But they left Friedrich-Wilhelm’s older sister, Anneliese, with an aunt so she could finish high school before rejoining them.
It was a tragic error. In 1961, East Germany built the Berlin Wall to stem an exodus of its citizens and left the family fractured. That also turned a still relatively porous divide between East and West into a full-fledged Iron Curtain.
“We were here and my sister was in the East,” recalled Lenz, today 64. “It was brutal and hard for us.”
Hammering home the fate that could await them if they tried to bring Anneliese across, East German guards shot and killed journalist Kurt Lichtenstein at the border near Boeckwitz and Zicherie as he was working on a story about Germany’s division in October 1961. He was one of some 700-800 people killed at the border throughout the Cold War.
Over the years, the barrier between Boeckwitz and Zicherie was strengthened, first with a mesh-steel fence topped with barbed wire, then, in 1979, a tall concrete wall with a mined “death strip” and a guard tower.
It was only in 1986 — a quarter century after separation — that Anneliese was allowed to rejoin her family in the West.
Boeckwitz native Willi Schuette was 13 when the town was first divided after World War II. In those early years before any walls went up, people could easily cross back and forth. And after the Schuette family lost their farm to East German authorities, they decided to relocate to a West German village 25 kilometers (15 miles) away.
Schuette remembers regularly making the trip to Zicherie to look across into Boeckwitz and take pictures of life in the East — once finding himself looking through the lens into the barrel of an East German border guard’s rifle.
“He took his rifle and pointed it at me like he wanted to kill me,” Schuette recalled. “I was full of fear because on my side in the West there were no border guards.”
Schuette started to flee. But as the soldier also turned to leave, he wheeled around and snapped a black and white photo.
Following reunification, both the Schuette and the Lenz families got their confiscated property back.
The photos that Schuette shot — including the soldier who pointed his gun at him — are now part of a museum he runs on his family’s land.
“If we don’t preserve something like this,” he said, “then nobody would know about it today.”