Route of the Duty Train
The U.S. had a total of four passenger trains that traveled from Frankfurt and Bremerhaven to Berlin, and vice versa. Each train consisted of three compartmentalized sleeping cars, an escort car, and a mail and freight car.
The Soviets allowed 16 to 19 trains a day to travel to West Berlin.
The trains traveled only at night, departing at 8:30 p.m. and arriving at their destination at 6:30 a.m. the following morning, allowing the passengers to sleep throughout the trip.
The train ride was 115 miles through the "Iron Curtain," typically taking nine hours, depending on the time to check passports and orders at the checkpoints.
Documents Required to Ride the Train
Each year about 80,000 people made the journey through East Germany. Movement orders or "flag orders" were carefully drawn up with name, rank, and personal information copied exactly from the identification card. Any typographical error would be grounds for refusing passage or detention by the Soviets or their "friends" the East German Border Police.
At checkpoints, no one was permitted to get off the train except for the commander, interpreter, and senior MP. The Soviet soldiers would inspect passports and orders of all the riders, which took about an hour.
A Ride on the Train
Once aboard the train, passengers could purchase snacks before settling into their sleeping compartments. At checkpoints, they were advised to keep the window shades down and not make eye contact with the Soviets.
Helmstedt (below) was one of the checkpoints between Frankfurt and Bremerhaven. Here, the communist locomotive was exchanged with the West German locomotive to continue to trip into Bremerhaven. In Soviet occupied territory, the locomotive had to be East German. A ride from west Berlin to Frankfort, for example, entailed an engine change in Potsdam (W. German to E. German) and Helmstedt (E. German to W. German).