Map for Book 2 of the East Berlin Series, Thoughts Are Free

It’s always an exciting moment when my publisher sends me the maps for my next book. I like maps, and I’m pleased that my publishers are prepared to put the effort into making decent maps for the books I write.

For a small publisher like Wolf Press the costs of a professional cartographer and licences for commercial maps would be prohibitive – there just isn’t very much money in publishing any more. So thank goodness for Open Street Maps! They provide a decent and up-to-date basis for mapping – but here’s the problem: Thoughts Are Free is set in a counter-factual GDR in the early 1990s, so the mapping should reflect the situation of 1990, rather than 2016 (and lets face it, Berlin has changed more than most places in the last 25 years!).

Berlin has changed more than most places in the last 25 years!

That’s where my stash of East German maps comes in. I have a pile of GDR maps, printed in the late 1980s, and although we can’t use them as a basis for our own mapping (imagine how hard it would be trying to track down the current copyright holders!), we can at least have a look to see where roads, railways and buildings might need to be backdated.

But just looking at old maps isn’t enough:

  • Map-makers notoriously add in deliberate mistakes in order to catch out copycats;
  • East German maps generally didn’t show West Berlin (at least rarely in any great detail),
  • They also don’t show the exact position of the border (the Berlin Wall), never mind the restricted area before the Wall: roads that hadn’t existed since 1961 were still shown on maps of East Berlin in 1989! It’s understandable that the exact location of the border should be obfuscated (makes it harder to plan an escape), but I’ve never understood why restricted or no-longer-existing roads should have been shown on these maps. Have a look at Kiefholzstrasse in Treptow as an example: at either end it’s a normal street in East Berlin, but for some of its length it ran along or near the border with West Berlin and was very much off-limits, being in the death strip. Nevertheless it was marked on most East Berlin maps as a thoroughfare for its whole length.
Map of territories exchanged between West Berlin and the GDR in 1988
Map of territories exchanged between West Berlin and the GDR in 1988

So a certain amount of historical knowledge is called for – where did the line of the Berlin Wall deviate from the actual border? Which S-Bahn stations and routes were shown in Westberlin even they were no longer open? Where did the Berlin Wall actually run in 1989?

Most people think the Wall went up in 1961 and apart from ‘improvements’ remained in place until 1990 – but it actually shifted around a fair bit as East and West negotiated land exchanges. Examples of this include Lohmühlenplatz in Neukölln/Treptow, or alongside what is now the Mauerpark in Prenzlauer Berg. Other parts of East Berlin were actually cut off by the Wall, and just fenced off from the West, for example the old Potsdamer Bahnhof and the adjoining Lenné Triangle. These adjustments mostly happened in the 1980s, but you could be forgiven for doubting this fact if you were to consult some of the maps printed in the GDR.

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However by working closely with the artists at Wolf Press I think we’ve managed to create an accurate map of the centre of Berlin in early 1990. If you think we’ve made a mistake then please let us know!

Here’s the map of central Berlin that appears in Thoughts Are Free – it gives you a preview of which places play a role in the book (click on map to see larger version).

Map of central Berlin, showing main scenes from the book Thoughts Are Free
Map from Thoughts Are Free – click to enlarge
Map derived from OpenStreetMap, copyright OpenStreetMap and contributors.