I need to know how an English person was able to get authority to visit East Germany and what the most common crossing used was. Additionally, any information on how visitors were treated by Stasi would be helpful.

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    Welcome to History:SE. What has your research shown you so far? Where have you already searched? What did you find? Exactly when during the Cold War is your period of interest? Please help us to help you. You might find it helpful to review our Help Centre and, in particular, How to Ask. In general, SE sites work best if the questions are supported by preliminary research Nov 16, 2019 at 16:42
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    How would they have gotten into contact with Stasi in the first place, in your opinion? Nov 16, 2019 at 19:12
  • @BernhardDöbler Since the Border Guards (Grenztruppen) stood under the orders of the Stasi (see link to the Order of 22.12.1979, Intoduction of Visa requirements in my answer) and had to pass on any information gathered from travelers, the 'how' they got into contact should be clear. This was clear to realistic travelers, even if the details, - known now - was not so clear. Unfortunately the traveler_virtural_world_56zba67569Z today still don't understand that they were the cause for the delays of the realistic travelers and contridict them at every opportunity. Nov 17, 2019 at 14:56
  • Would your English person in question be there a random Jon Doe who's there for private pleasure (family visits, sight seeing) or someone who'd come to do research, business or politics, for example? And long would the stay be?
    – Arsak
    Nov 17, 2019 at 15:55
  • Hi. I am researching for a novel. The individual in question is trying to discover how his father, a German teacher, was killed under the Nazi regime. He was taken by his german mother to England after the war and grew up there. He has applied for a two week visit to go to the town of his birth. So i have been seeking information on how he would apply to visit, what would be the limitations imposed on him and how his actions might be monitored by the state. Nov 18, 2019 at 17:40

4 Answers 4


I visited East Berlin and Dresden in 1978 with my mother and sister ( I was 18 at the time) from the USA. We had to obtain visas many months prior to our visit from a travel agent who specialized in this. When we arrived at each of our destinations we had to register with the city officials (listing where we were staying and for how long). As I recall we could not check in to our hotel unless we had the proper paperwork from the city officials which was obtained when you registered.

The visas were issued for the exact time frame we had stated for the trip and we had to be out of the country by midnight of the day of our departure.

We came to East Germany (East Berlin) via train from Aachen. We traveled to Dresden via train from East Berlin and then back to West Berlin after our time was up.

We had no interaction with the Stasi as far as I know. Our interactions with the East German State consisted of customs at the border and at the various registration places (I don't remember what they were called) in each city we visited.

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    Thank you Matt. That was really helpful. I appreciate you taking the time to answer. Nov 16, 2019 at 17:32
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    You might have interacted with the Stasi. Border guards and administration officials might have been undercover agents, and overt officials would have checked your visa application against their files before it was approved.
    – o.m.
    Nov 16, 2019 at 17:45
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    That's interesting. I visited East Berlin in 1982. No advance visa was required, since I didn't stay overnight in East Berlin. I was given an insert to my UK passport by East German immigration while I was on the train (I travelled by train from Hamburg to West Berlin). I then just took the U-Bahn to East Berlin each morning. At the end of the day, I walked across the city and returned through Checkpoint Charlie (just because I wanted to cross at Checkpoint Charlie). Nov 16, 2019 at 17:46
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    @sempaiscuba Due to agreements among the occupying powers regarding the status of Berlin, it was far easier for Westerners to visit East Berlin than (the remainder of) East Germany, even if, politically, there was (post-1961) little difference between the two for people who actually lived there.
    – C Monsour
    Nov 16, 2019 at 18:36
  • @CMonsour Correct. That was also why before 1977 foreigners received a permit that was valid for 24 hours. Starting 1977 a Visa until midnight, which was the rule for Germans. Nov 16, 2019 at 18:39

Q: How did an English person get entry to East Germany during the Cold War?

Just crossing the border, ignoring all East-German border guards!

That may have been as simple that. Really.

Angering all of those East-Germans, to be sure. In Berlin, at crossing Friedrichstraße, Checkpoint Charlie.

On August 2, 1989, the "Berliner Zeitung" newspaper, which appeared in the eastern part of the city, reported that the East Berliners would be annoyed by the visits of Allied soldiers from the West, using a report from the German Press Agency (dpa): "Anyone who explores the surroundings of the 'Centrum' department store at the main railway station on Saturdays, for example, will easily find several British private cars and British military buses. In front of the 'Centrum' department store at Alexanderplatz there are two French military buses and three American ones. And then, with their tartan skirts and tight calves, a few 'Highlanders' march through the socialist consumer paradise.

That's because in Berlin the Western allies insisted that they were always allowed to 'inspect' the Eastern half of the city. Without any interference of not sovereign lackeys of the Soviets: meaning an East-German border guard could tell them squat. If the GDR-guards would try something funny, they were usually ignored, Westerner insisting to speak only to their masters.

Well, once they did try something funny. The result was: Rare Historical Photos: The standoff at Checkpoint Charlie: Soviet tanks facing American tanks, 1961 (src)

This image from October 1961 is always used in documentaries to illustrate American defiance after the wall was being build. But it was nothing like that. The tank stand-off came after E Allan Lightner wanted to return unhindered - as usual – from a night at the opera in East Berlin. After being asked for papers the result was the above; and shortly later the Soviet admission of guilt, Lightner's return and continued business as before:

If in uniform, any English could go to Checkpoint Charlie and visit the East. Some formalities with his regiment beforehand to know his whereabouts and presumably prevent defection. But the uniform was really optional. No uniform meant just to show a waver card and otherwise do the same.

From there it gets funny. Travel recommendations for soldiers said to "prefer U-Bahn but don't take any S-Bahn". Why? Because the S-Bahn would take drunken strangers out of Berlin, a thing not covered by 4-powers Berlin-status. But the point is that that could happen easily.

The starting quote illustrates that this option was used extensively during the 80s, especially by US troops. Since after Nixon cancelled Bretton-Woods the Dollar got so weak that they would prefer shopping and partying in the East.

enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here

–– Berlin crisis: the standoff at Checkpoint Charlie
–– Stefanie Eisenhuth: "Freizeit Beim Feind. US-amerikanische Soldaten in Ost-Berlin", Zeithistorische Forschungen/Studies In Contemporary History, Vol 15, 2018, (p11–39).

This is of course not the typical case for non-soldiers. But there are mainly three very different scenarios to observe: allied soldiers in Berlin or on their way to Berlin, diplomats or 'diplomats' (the latter being 'peace scouts' eg ordinary spies) and non-military private citizens. For the last scenario I refer to other answers here.

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    I have learned a lot from the answers given and your willingness to take time to discuss and comment. Nov 17, 2019 at 15:08
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    -1 This is a terrible answer and pertains soly (i.e.not for an 'English person' as asked) for Allied Military. One a side note of the 3 Allies, the British soldiers were strickly checked by British MP on return to Checkpoint Charlie. They had to prove that for everything they bought that the East Marks were legly exchanged. Nov 20, 2019 at 14:26
  • Yo, Almost "exactly"! Reading answer again might reveal to you that what is implicit throughout is also made explicit in the last paragraph: that this when soldiers want to cross. And if you read the question again it might also dawn how irrelevant any concerns about returns are, when it is answering a question how any English, including such soldiers, "get entry to the GDR". To the @upvoter-of-that-comment: I am very disappointed at your reading and comprehension skills. Nov 21, 2019 at 12:41

For any visit for staying overnight, a form of package tour had to be organized by the Reisebüro der DDR

  • unless you were invited by relatives of on business

A visa would then be issued at the border, based on the papers issued by the Travel Agent (on behalf of the Reisebüro der DDR) or by the Volkspolizei for private visits.

Exception: day visits to East-Berlin or a Tourist bus tour to Potsdam, where a permit (1977 Visa with a DM 5 fee) would be issued at the border.

Day visits outside of East-Berlin were only possible for residents of West-Berlin, when they were applied for beforehand.

For all day visits, the same crosspoint you used to enter had to be used for exit.

Order from 22 December 1976, Ministry of State Security (Stasi)
Introduction of Visa requirements for non Socialist citizens ...


  • die Ausreise hat bis 24.00 Uhr des Ausstellungstages des Visums über die Grenzübergangsstelle zu erfolgen, über die die Einreise erfolgte ;

  • the departure must be made by 24.00 on the day of issue of the visa through the border crossing point through which the entry was made; ...

  • Order contains all other regulations, referencing those that have not changed

Although there were some extra regulations for German citizens, these rules otherwise applied for all westerners.


Here is some anecdotal evidence. A friend of mine travelled to East-Berlin during the late part of the cold war. He's a Swedish citizen and he travelled using a tourist visa. Don't know how hard it was to get, but I think they wanted tourists for currency and propaganda.

He went by train and said that when the train stopped in West-Berlin all the tourists got off and it was just him and a few businessmen on the train. Then a grumpy border guard entered and demanded "Papire, bitte!" and when he saw that he travelled on a tourist visa he suddenly became very happy. "Ah, jungen touriste!".

He also claimed he was the only one to write graffiti on the eastern side of the Berlin wall so he may not have been entirely reliable.

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    No graffiti on the eastern side of the wall when I visited in 1978, you couldn't even get close to it from that side. Nov 20, 2019 at 12:28
  • Anecdotal infomation really helpful to me. Thank you Nov 21, 2019 at 10:35

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