WEST BERLIN — More than 180 Western protesters scrambled over the Berlin Wall to the East today to escape police in scenes unprecedented since the barrier was erected in 1961.
The 182 protesters were among a group of squatters that had been occupying the so-called Lenne Triangle next to the wall since May 26, five weeks before East Germany handed over the territory to West Berlin under a deal agreed on in February to exchange several enclaves.
Five hours after the swap took effect, as dawn broke over the occupiers' colony of tents and huts, hundreds of West Berlin police moved onto the 100-acre Triangle near a city park, the Tiergarten.
Police and witnesses said that rather than face eviction and identity checks, the protesters climbed up makeshift ladders against the high concrete border wall and were helped down into waiting trucks on the other side by East German border guards more used to stopping their own citizens from escaping to the West.
"I could not believe my eyes," said one photographer who saw the exodus over the wall, which East Germany built in August, 1961, to stem a westward flow of refugees.
Police said 52 of the environmentalist squatters, who were trying to stop West Berlin developers from building a road through the Triangle where rare plants grow, stayed on the Western side. One man was detained.
The occupiers who fled to the East said the East German guards gave them breakfast in the barracks and checked their documents before allowing them to choose an East-West crossing point to return home. Most returned immediately to the West.