Glienicker Bruecke – Bridge of Spies

Glienicker Bruecke (Glienicke Bridge) is located in Germany and connects Brandenburg’s capital Potsdam to Berlin’s Wannsee district. Since the division of Berlin, the border between Soviet-occupied East Berlin and the US-occupied western sector of Berlin ran right through the center of the bridge. For this reason, the Western Allies and the Soviets used Glienicke Bridge during the Cold War years to exchange captured spies.

Glienicker Bruecke – History

Today’s Glienicker Bruecke, is the fourth bridge that spans the Havel River in this site. The first bridge was build around 1660 and was made of wood. In order to accommodate increased traffic between Berlin and the Emperor’s new castle in Potsdam, the wooden bridge was replaced with a brick and wood drawbridge in the first quarter of the 19th century. At the beginning of the 20th century, the drawbridge no longer met the needs of the populace and was replaced with an iron bridge. But at the end of World War II, in April 1945, an unexploded shell severely damaged Glienicke Bridge. Reconstruction was completed in 1949 and the East German government renamed it “Bridge of Unity” because of the close proximity of East and West.

During the Cold War years, East German authorities closed the bridge to the people of West Berlin and West Germany in 1952 and also to East German citizens in 1961, when the Berlin Wall was constructed. Soon, Glienicker Bruecke became a favored point of exchange of secret agents between East and West. By the 1970s, the bridge needed significant repairs. West Berlin repaired its half of the repairs to the bridge in 1980 and for the work on the East German half of the structure in 1985. The deal included a provision that the East German authorities would rename the bridge “Glienicker Bruecke” once again. One day after the opening of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the bridge also reopened to pedestrians.

1960 - Tourists having their picture taken on the western side of Glienicker Bruecke, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2014

1960 – Tourists having their picture taken on the western side of Glienicker Bruecke, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2014

Glienicker Bruecke – Bridge of Spies

During the Cold War, Glienicker Bruecke became the site of three well-known East/West spy exchanges, which resulted it the name “Bridge of Spies.”

1962 – The US exchanges Soviet Intelligence officer Vilyam Genrikhovich Fisher (also known as Rudolf Abel) for American pilot Francis Gary Powers whose U-2 spy plane was shot down while flying a reconnaissance mission over Soviet Union airspace and the American Ph.D. student Frederic L. Pryor. The exchange inspired the 2015 movie, “Bridge of Spies, starring Tom Hanks as James Donovan, Abel’s defense attorney, and Sebastian Koch as the East German attorney Wolfgang Vogel who brokered some of the most famous spy swaps between East and West.  For more information on Wolfgang Vogel’s involvement, visit

1964 – The British exchanges Soviet intelligence officer Konon Molody for British spy Greville Wynne.

1986 – The US exchanges Czech spies Karl and Hana Koecher, Soviet spy Yevgeni Zemlyakov, Polish spy Marian Zacharski and East German spy Detlef Scharfenorth for human rights campaigner Anatoly Sharansky and three low-level Western spies.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.



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