Berlin Wall in Berlin

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The Berlin Wall was a barrier constructed by the German Democratic Republic (GDR, East Germany) starting on 13 August 1961, that completely cut off West Berlin from surrounding East Germany and from East Berlin. The barrier included guard towers placed along large concrete walls, which circumscribed a wide area (later known as the "death strip") that contained anti-vehicle trenches, "fakir beds" and other defenses. The Eastern Bloc claimed that the wall was erected to protect its population from fascist elements conspiring to prevent the "will of the people" in building a socialist state in East Germany. In practice, the Wall served to prevent the massive emigration and defection that marked Germany and the communist Eastern Bloc during the post-World War II period.

The Berlin Wall was officially referred to as the "Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart" by GDR authorities, implying that neighbouring West Germany had not been fully de-Nazified. The West Berlin city government sometimes referred to it as the "Wall of Shame"—a term coined by mayor Willy Brandt—while condemning the Wall's restriction on freedom of movement. Along with the separate and much longer Inner German border (IGB) that demarcated the border between East and West Germany, both borders came to symbolize the "Iron Curtain" that separated Western Europe and the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War.

Before the Wall's erection, 3.5 million East Germans circumvented Eastern Bloc emigration restrictions and defected from the GDR, many by crossing over the border from East Berlin into West Berlin, from where they could then travel to West Germany and other Western European countries. Between 1961 and 1989, the wall prevented almost all such emigration. During this period, around 5,000 people attempted to escape over the wall, with estimates of the resulting death toll varying between 100 and 200.

In 1989, a radical series of political changes occurred in the Eastern Bloc, associated with the liberalization of the Eastern Bloc's authoritarian systems and the erosion of political power in the pro-Soviet governments in nearby Poland and Hungary. After several weeks of civil unrest, the East German government announced on 9 November 1989 that all GDR citizens could visit West Germany and West Berlin. Crowds of East Germans crossed and climbed onto the wall, joined by West Germans on the other side in a celebratory atmosphere. Over the next few weeks, a euphoric public and souvenir hunters chipped away parts of the wall; the governments later used industrial equipment to remove most of the rest. The fall of the Berlin Wall paved the way for German reunification, which was formally concluded on 3 October 1990.

Background

Post-war Germany

After the end of World War II in Europe, what remained of pre-war Germany west of the Oder-Neisse line was divided into four occupation zones (per the Potsdam Agreement), each one controlled by one of the four occupying Allied powers: the United States, the United Kingdom, France and the Soviet Union. The capital of Berlin, as the seat of the Allied Control Council, was similarly subdivided into four sectors despite the city's location fully within the Soviet zone.

Within two years, political divisions increased between the Soviets and the other occupying powers. These included the Soviets' refusal to agree to reconstruction plans making post-war Germany self-sufficient and to a detailed accounting of the industrial plants, goods and infrastructure already removed by the Soviets. Britain, France, the United States and the Benelux countries later met to combine the non-Soviet zones of the country into one zone for reconstruction and approve the extension of the Marshall Plan.

The Eastern Bloc and the Berlin airlift

Following World War II, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin headed a union of nations on his Western border, the Eastern Bloc, that then included Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, which he wished to maintain alongside a weakened Soviet-controlled Germany. As early as 1945, Stalin revealed to German communist leaders that he expected to slowly undermine the British position within the British occupation zone, that the United States would withdraw within a year or two, and that nothing then would stand in the way of a united communist Germany within the bloc.

The major task of the ruling communist party in the Soviet zone was to channel Soviet orders down to both the administrative apparatus and the other bloc parties, which in turn would be presented as internal measures. Property and industry was nationalized in the East German zone. including Soviet SMERSH secret police.

In 1948, following disagreements regarding reconstruction and a new German currency, Stalin instituted the Berlin Blockade, preventing food, materials and supplies from arriving in West Berlin. The United States, Britain, France, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and several other countries began a massive "Berlin airlift", supplying West Berlin with food and other supplies. The Soviets mounted a public relations campaign against the western policy change. Communists attempted to disrupt the elections of 1948, preceding large losses therein, while 300,000 Berliners demonstrated for the international airlift to continue. In May 1949, Stalin lifted the blockade, permitting the resumption of Western shipments to Berlin.

The German Democratic Republic (East Germany) was declared on 7 October 1949. By a secret treaty, the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs accorded the East German state administrative authority, but not autonomy. The Soviets penetrated East German administrative, military and secret police structures and had full control.

East Germany differed from West Germany (Federal Republic of Germany), which developed into a Western capitalist country with a social market economy (' in German) and a democratic parliamentary government. Continual economic growth starting in the 1950s fuelled a 20-year "economic miracle" ('). As West Germany's economy grew and its standard of living steadily improved, many East Germans wanted to move to West Germany.

Emigration westward in the early 1950s

After Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe at the end of World War II, the majority of those living in the newly acquired areas of the Eastern Bloc aspired to independence and wanted the Soviets to leave. Taking advantage of the zonal border between occupied zones in Germany, the number of GDR citizens moving to West Germany totaled 187,000 in 1950; 165,000 in 1951; 182,000 in 1952; and 331,000 in 1953. One reason for the sharp 1953 increase was fear of potential further Sovietization, given the increasingly paranoid actions of Joseph Stalin in late 1952 and early 1953. 226,000 had fled in just the first six months of 1953.

Erection of the inner German border

By the early 1950s, the Soviet approach to controlling national movement, restricting emigration, was emulated by most of the rest of the Eastern Bloc, including East Germany. The restrictions presented a quandary for some Eastern Bloc states that had been more economically advanced and open than the Soviet Union, such that crossing borders seemed more natural—especially where no prior border existed between East and West Germany.

Up until 1952, the lines between East Germany and the western occupied zones could be easily crossed in most places. On 1 April 1952, East German leaders met the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in Moscow; during the discussions Stalin's foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov proposed that the East Germans should "introduce a system of passes for visits of West Berlin residents to the territory of East Berlin [so as to stop] free movement of Western agents" in the GDR. Stalin agreed, calling the situation "intolerable". He advised the East Germans to build up their border defenses, telling them that "The demarcation line between East and West Germany should be considered a border—and not just any border, but a dangerous one ... The Germans will guard the line of defence with their lives."

Consequently, the inner German border between the two German states was closed, and a barbed-wire fence erected. The border between the Western and Eastern sectors of Berlin, however, remained open, although traffic between the Soviet and the Western sectors was somewhat restricted. This resulted in Berlin becoming a magnet for East Germans desperate to escape life in the GDR, and also a flashpoint for tension between the United States and the Soviet Union.

In 1955, the Soviets gave East Germany authority over civilian movement in Berlin, passing control to a regime not recognized in the West. Initially, East Germany granted "visits" to allow its residents access to West Germany. However, following the defection of large numbers of East Germans under this regime, the new East German state legally restricted virtually all travel to the West in 1956. the border in Berlin remained considerably more accessible then because it was administered by all four occupying powers. The Berlin sector border was essentially a "loophole" through which Eastern Bloc citizens could still escape. Andropov reported that, while the East German leadership stated that they were leaving for economic reasons, testimony from refugees indicated that the reasons were more political than material.

Construction begins, 1961

On 15 June 1961, First Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party and GDR State Council chairman Walter Ulbricht stated in an international press conference, ' (No one has the intention of erecting a wall!). It was the first time the colloquial term ' (wall) had been used in this context.

The record of a telephone call between Nikita Khrushchev and Ulbricht on 1 August in the same year, suggests that it was Khrushchev from whom the initiative for the construction of the wall came. However, other sources suggest that Khrushchev had initially been wary about building a wall, fearing negative Western reaction. What is beyond dispute, though, is that Ulbricht had pushed for a border closure for quite some time, arguing that East Germany's very existence was at stake.

Immediate effects

With the closing of the East-West sector boundary in Berlin, the vast majority of East Germans could no longer travel or emigrate to West Germany. Many families were split, while East Berliners employed in the West were cut off from their jobs. West Berlin became an isolated exclave in a hostile land. West Berliners demonstrated against the wall, led by their Mayor Willy Brandt, who strongly criticized the United States for failing to respond. Allied intelligence agencies had hypothesized about a wall to stop the flood of refugees, but the main candidate for its location was around the perimeter of the city. In 1961, Secretary of State Dean Rusk proclaimed, "The Wall certainly ought not to be a permanent feature of the European landscape. I see no reason why the Soviet Union should think it is—it is to their advantage in any way to leave there that monument to Communist failure." it was constructed from 45,000 separate sections of reinforced concrete, each high and wide, and cost DDM 16,155,000 or about US$3,638,000. The concrete provisions added to this version of the Wall were done so to prevent escapees from driving their cars through the barricades. At strategic points the wall was constructed to a somewhat weaker standard so that East German and Soviet armored vehicles could break through easily in the event of war.

The top of the wall was lined with a smooth pipe, intended to make it more difficult to scale. It was reinforced by mesh fencing, signal fencing, anti-vehicle trenches, barbed wire, dogs on long lines, "beds of nails" under balconies hanging over the "death strip", over 116 watchtowers, and 20 bunkers. This version of the Wall is the one most commonly seen in photographs, and surviving fragments of the Wall in Berlin and elsewhere around the world are generally pieces of the fourth-generation Wall. The layout came to resemble the inner German border in most technical aspects, except the Berlin Wall had no landmines and no spring-guns.

Surrounding municipalities

Besides the sector-sector boundary within Berlin itself, the wall also separated West Berlin from the present-day state of Brandenburg. The following present-day municipalities, listed in counter-clockwise direction, share a border with former West Berlin:

  • Oberhavel : Mühlenbecker Land (partially), Glienicke/Nordbahn, Hohen Neuendorf, Hennigsdorf
  • Havelland : Schönwalde-Glien, Falkensee, Dallgow-Döberitz
  • Potsdam (Urban district)
  • Potsdam-Mittelmark : Stahnsdorf, Kleinmachnow, Teltow
  • Teltow-Fläming : Großbeeren, Blankenfelde-Mahlow
  • Dahme-Spreewald : Schönefeld (partially)

Official crossings and usage

There were nine border crossings between East and West Berlin, which allowed visits by West Berliners, West Germans, Western foreigners and Allied personnel into East Berlin, as well as visits by GDR citizens and citizens of other socialist countries into West Berlin, provided that they held the necessary permits. Those crossings were restricted according to which nationality was allowed to use it (East Germans, West Germans, West Berliners, other countries). The most famous was the vehicle and pedestrian checkpoint at the corner of Friedrichstraße and Zimmerstraße, also known as Checkpoint Charlie, which was restricted to Allied personnel and foreigners.

Several other border crossings existed between West Berlin and surrounding East Germany. These could be used for transit between West Germany and West Berlin, for visits by West Berliners into East Germany, for transit into countries neighbouring East Germany (Poland, Czechoslovakia, Denmark), and for visits by East Germans into West Berlin carrying a permit. After the 1972 agreements, new crossings were opened to allow West Berlin waste to be transported into East German dumps, as well as some crossings for access to West Berlin's exclaves (see Steinstücken).


Four autobahns connected West Berlin to West Germany, the most famous being the Berlin-Helmstedt autobahn, which entered East German territory between the towns of Helmstedt and Marienborn (Checkpoint Alpha), and which entered West Berlin at Dreilinden (Checkpoint Bravo for the Allied forces) in southwestern Berlin. Access to West Berlin was also possible by railway (four routes) and by boat for commercial shipping via canals and rivers.

Non-German Westerners could cross the border at Friedrichstraße station in East Berlin and at Checkpoint Charlie. When the Wall was erected, Berlin's complex public transit networks, the S-Bahn and U-Bahn, were divided with it. A historic research group at the Center for Contemporary Historical Research (ZZF) in Potsdam has confirmed 136 deaths. Prior official figures listed 98 as being killed.

The East German government issued shooting orders (Schießbefehl) to border guards dealing with defectors, though such orders are not the same as "shoot to kill" orders. GDR officials denied issuing the latter. In an October 1973 order later discovered by researchers, guards were instructed that people attempting to cross the wall were criminals and needed to be shot: "Do not hesitate to use your firearm, not even when the border is breached in the company of women and children, which is a tactic the traitors have often used".

Early successful escapes involved people jumping the initial barbed wire or leaping out of apartment windows along the line, but these ended as the wall was fortified. East German authorities no longer permitted apartments near the wall to be occupied, and any building near the wall had its windows boarded and later bricked up. On 15 August 1961, Conrad Schumann was the first East German border guard to escape by jumping the barbed wire to West Berlin. On 22 August 1961 Ida Siekmann was the first casualty at the Berlin Wall: she died after she jumped out of her third floor apartment at 48 Bernauer Strasse. The first person to be shot and killed while trying to cross to West Berlin was Günter Litfin, a twenty-four year old tailor. He attempted to swim across the Spree Canal to freedom in West Germany on 24 August 1961, the same day that East German police had received shoot-to-kill orders to prevent anyone from escaping.

Another dramatic escape was carried out on April 1963 by Wolfgang Engels, a 19-year-old civilian employee of the Nationale Volksarmee. Engels stole a Soviet armored personnel carrier from a base where he was deployed and drove it right into the wall. He was fired at and seriously wounded by border guards. But a West German policeman intervened, firing his weapon at the East German border guards. The policeman removed Engels from the vehicle, which had become entangled in the barbed wire.


East Germans successfully defected by a variety of methods: digging long tunnels under the wall, waiting for favorable winds and taking a hot air balloon, sliding along aerial wires, flying ultralights, and in one instance, simply driving a sports car at full speed through the basic, initial fortifications. When a metal beam was placed at checkpoints to prevent this kind of defection, up to four people (two in the front seats and possibly two in the boot) drove under the bar in a sports car that had been modified to allow the roof and windscreen to come away when it made contact with the beam. They lay flat and kept driving forward. The East Germans then built zig-zagging roads at checkpoints. The sewer system predated the wall, and some people escaped through the sewers, in a number of cases with assistance from the Girmann student group.

An airborne escape was made by Thomas Krüger, who landed a Zlin Z 42M light aircraft of the Gesellschaft für Sport und Technik, an East German youth military training organization, at RAF Gatow. His aircraft, registration DDR-WOH, was dismantled and returned to the East Germans by road, complete with humorous slogans painted on by RAF airmen such as "Wish you were here" and "Come back soon". DDR-WOH is still flying today, but under the registration D-EWOH.

If an escapee was wounded in a crossing attempt and lay on the death strip, no matter how close they were to the Western wall, Westerners could not intervene for fear of triggering engaging fire from the 'Grepos', the East Berlin border guards. The guards often let fugitives bleed to death in the middle of this ground, as in the most notorious failed attempt, that of Peter Fechter (aged 18). He was shot and bled to death, in full view of the Western media, on 17 August 1962. Fechter's death created negative publicity worldwide that led the leaders of East Berlin to place more restrictions on shooting in public places, and provide medical care for possible “would-be escapers”. The last person to be shot while trying to cross the border was Chris Gueffroy on 6 February 1989.

The Wall gave rise to a widespread sense of desperation and oppression in East Berlin, as expressed in the private thoughts of one resident, who confided to her diary "Our lives have lost their spirit…we can do nothing to stop them."

"Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall."

In a speech at the Brandenburg Gate commemorating the 750th anniversary of Berlin on 12 June 1987, Ronald Reagan challenged Mikhail Gorbachev, then the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, to tear down the wall as a symbol of increasing freedom in the Eastern Bloc:

The Fall

After allowing for loopholes throughout the summer, Hungary effectively disabled its physical border defenses with Austria on 19 August 1989 and, in September, more than 13,000 East German tourists escaped through Hungary to Austria. This set up a chain of events. The Hungarians prevented many more East Germans from crossing the border and returned them to Budapest. These East Germans flooded the West German embassy and refused to return to East Germany. The East German government responded by disallowing any further travel to Hungary, but allowed those already there to return. This triggered a similar incident in neighboring Czechoslovakia. On this occasion, the East German authorities allowed them to leave, providing that they used a train which transited East Germany on the way. This was followed by mass demonstrations within East Germany itself. (See Monday demonstrations in East Germany.) The longtime leader of East Germany, Erich Honecker, resigned on 18 October 1989 and was replaced by Egon Krenz a few days later. Honecker had predicted in January of that year that the wall would stand for 50 or 100 more years if the conditions that had caused its construction did not change.

Protest demonstrations broke out all over East Germany in September 1989. Initially, protesters were mostly people wanting to leave to the West, chanting ("We want out!"). Then protestors began to chant '', ("We're staying here!"). This was the start of what East Germans generally call the "Peaceful Revolution" of late 1989. The protest demonstrations grew considerably by early November. The movement neared its height on 4 November when half a million people gathered at the Alexanderplatz demonstration, a rally for change in East Berlin's large public square and transportation hub. (Henslin, 07)

Meanwhile, the wave of refugees leaving East Germany for the West had increased and had found its way through Hungary via Czechoslovakia (or via the West German Embassy in Prague), tolerated by the new Krenz government and in agreement with the communist Czechoslovak government. To ease the complications, the politburo led by Krenz decided on 9 November to allow refugees to exit directly through crossing points between East Germany and West Germany, including West Berlin. On the same day, the ministerial administration modified the proposal to include private travel. The new regulations were to take effect the next day.

Günter Schabowski, the party boss in East Berlin and the spokesman for the SED Politburo, had the task of announcing this; however he had not been involved in the discussions about the new regulations and had not been fully updated. Shortly before a press conference on 9 November, he was handed a note announcing the changes, but given no further instructions on how to handle the information. These regulations had only been completed a few hours earlier and were to take effect the following day, so as to allow time to inform the border guards—however, nobody had informed Schabowski. He read the note out loud at the end of the conference. One of the reporters—by most accounts, NBC's Tom Brokaw--asked when the regulations would take effect. After a few seconds' hesitation, Schabowski assumed it would be the same day based on the wording of the note and replied, "As far as I know effective immediately, without delay". After further questions from journalists he confirmed that the regulations included the border crossings towards West Berlin, which he had not mentioned until then.


Excerpts from Schabowski's press conference were the lead story on West Germany's two main news programs that night—at 7:17 PM on ZDF's heute and at 8 PM on ARD's Tagesschau; this of course meant that the news was broadcast to nearly all of East Germany as well. Later that night, on ARD's Tagesthemen, anchorman Hans Joachim Friedrichs proclaimed, "This is a historic day. East Germany has announced that, starting immediately, its borders are open to everyone. The GDR is opening its borders ... the gates in the Berlin Wall stand open." {{quote|"We do not want a united Germany. This would lead to a change to postwar borders and we cannot allow that because such a development would undermine the stability of the whole international situation and could endanger our security", Thatcher told Gorbachev.

Celebrations

On 25 December 1989, Leonard Bernstein gave a concert in Berlin celebrating the end of the Wall, including Beethoven's 9th symphony (Ode to Joy) with the word "Joy" changed to "Freedom" in the lyrics sung. The orchestra and choir were drawn from both East and West Germany, as well as the United Kingdom, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States.

Roger Waters performed the Pink Floyd album The Wall just north of Potsdamer Platz on 21 July 1990, with guests including Bon Jovi, Scorpions, Bryan Adams, Sinéad O'Connor, Thomas Dolby, Joni Mitchell, Marianne Faithfull, Levon Helm, Rick Danko and Van Morrison. David Hasselhoff performed his song "Looking for Freedom", which was very popular in Germany at that time, standing on the Berlin wall.

Over the years, there has been a repeated controversial debate whether 9 November would make a suitable German national holiday, often initiated by former members of political opposition in East Germany such as Werner Schulz. Besides being the emotional apogee of East Germany's peaceful revolution, 9 November is also the date of the end of the Revolution of 1848 and the date of the 1918 abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II and declaration of the Weimar Republic, the first German republic. However, 9 November is also the anniversary of the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch and the infamous Kristallnacht pogroms of the Nazis in 1938. Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel criticized the first euphoria, noting that "they forgot that 9 Nov. has already entered into history—51 years earlier it marked the Kristallnacht." As reunification was not official and complete until 3 October, that day was finally chosen as German Unity Day.

20th Anniversary Celebrations

On 9 November 2009, Berlin celebrated the 20th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall with a "Festival of Freedom" with dignitaries from around the world in attendance for an evening celebration around the Brandenburg Gate. A high point was when over 1,000 colourfully designed foam domino tiles, each over 8 ft tall, that were stacked along the former route of the wall in the city center were toppled in stages, converging in front of the Brandenburg Gate. installed a prepared foil of 3x2m in it and finished the painting there before the border soldiers on patrol could detect him. This performance was even recorded on video. His actions are well-documented both in newspapers from that time and in recent scientific publications.

Notes

  • Childs, David (2001) The Fall of the GDR: Germany's Road To Unity, Longman,Pearsoned.co.uk 2001. ,
  • Childs, David, The GDR: Moscow's German Ally, (Second Edition 1988, First Edition 1983, George Allen & Unwin, London) , 9780043540299.
  • Childs, David, (2001) The Fall of the GDR, Longman. Amazon.co.uk
  • Childs, David, (2000) The Two Red Flags: European Social Democracy & Soviet Communism Since 1945, Routledge. Informaworld.com
  • Childs, David, (1991) Germany in the Twentieth Century, (From pre-1918 to the restoration of German unity), Batsford, Third edition.
  • Childs, David, (1987) East Germany to the 1990s Can It Resist Glasnost?, The Economist Intelligence Unit. , 9780850582451. Worldcat.org
  • Taylor, Frederick. The Berlin Wall: 13 August 1961 – 9 November 1989. Bloomsbury 2006
  • Luftbildatlas. Entlang der Berliner Mauer. Karten, Pläne und Fotos. Hans Wolfgang Hoffmann / Philipp Meuser (eds.) Berlin 2009.

External links

Images and personal accounts




Source en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berlin_Wall