Berlin Wall history
On Sunday morning, august 13th 1961, the border between West and East Berlin was closed. East German soldiers tore up the streets and the roads in order to prevent any vehicle to pass by. Barbed wire and wired fences were installed along the border towards West Berlin. Anyone trying to hinder the work would be shot.
During the course of one day, many families were split apart. If someone happened to be on the wrong side of the border during the closure, it was impossible to go back. They would not be able to return to their friends and family for a long time to come. Shortly after the Sunday morning, the first concrete blocks were put into place and the Berlin Wall had risen.
Why the Berlin Wall was built
One can ask why the Berlin Wall was constructed in the first place. After the Second World War, Germany was divided between the Allies and the Soviet Union. In order to rebuild the war torn Europe, and Germany in particular, plans for economic growth in the sector was initiated by the United States. The Soviets did however not agree with these plans and did not want to take part of the combined reconstruction efforts.
The Marshall Plan
Thus, this plan, called the Marshall Plan, was only implemented on the West German side. Due to the Marshall plan, the West German side recovered quicker from the war than East Germany, leading to a higher living standard in the west.
This, combined with the fact the many job opportunities were found on the west side of Berlin, lead to people emigrating to the west side. Until the construction of the wall, approximately 3.5 million East Germans had emigrated from east to west, which totaled around 20% of the entire East German population.
Many of the emigrants were also young and well educated people, which made the emigration even more devastating for the East German government. The East German government built the Berlin Wall in an attempt to stop people from leaving the country.
Crossing the wall
Even though the Berlin Wall was solid, all around West Berlin, there were in total eight crossings between the west and the east side. Both West- and East Berliners could cross the border, provided that they held the necessary permits, which was often hard to get. Many people also tried to cross the border even when they didn’t have any permit.
Throughout the years, there were around 5000 successful escape attempts to West Berlin. The ways of escape were many; long underground tunnels from one side to the other, hot air balloons, sliding along aerial wires or going through the sewers, to name a few. In the earlier stages of the Berlin Wall, people could cross the wall by leaping out of apartment windows, but this was stopped when the wall was fortified and the no-man’s-land was introduced.
This so called “death-strip” was a strip between the main wall and an outer fence. Anyone trying to cross the “death-strip” would be shot and killed. The number of failed escape attempts resulting in death is uncertain, but is believed to be around 130-200. The last person to be shot trying to cross the border was Chris Gueffroy, as late as February 6th 1989.
The beginning of the end
During the end of the 1980ies, people found other ways to leave East Germany. Through countries such as Hungary and Czechoslovakia, people could escape to the west side. Back in East Germany, demonstrations against the government suppression begun.
By November 4th, the protests had grown significantly, with one million demonstrators gathering at Alexanderplatz in East Berlin. The situation was getting out of hand for the newly installed East German leader, Egon Krenz.
The Berlin Wall is breached
On November 9th, Krenzs administration decided that people would be allowed to move through the crossing points. This new rules were to come into effect from November 17th and onward. This was not however something that the East German party secretary had been told when he called for a press conference November 9th, where the media was told the new rules was to come into effect immediately.
Thus, tens of thousands of East Berliners streamed towards the wall, much to the wall guards surprise. There was no way for the vastly outnumbered soldiers to hold back the crowd, so the people were allowed free crossing. Thus, November 9th is seen as the official day the wall fell. Over the next months, the Berlin Wall was torn town by both the people and the East German government.
Why visit the Berlin Wall ?
Today, parts of the Berlin Wall and a few watchtowers still stand as memorials. It is also possible to still see a trace of where the Berlin Wall used to stand. This trace is usually characterized by a different colored concrete in the pavement.
The Berlin wall has throughout history been the symbol for the Cold War and the Iron Curtain that divided Germany and Europe into two. The fall of the Berlin Wall was also the start of the reunification of Germany, which took place not even a year after the wall had fallen. The history significance of the Berlin Wall is displayed at visitor centers along the former wall.
The most well known is Checkpoint Charlie; one of the most used crossings during the time of the Berlin Wall. There one can see the course of the former Berlin Wall and border as it is marked in the street with a line of cobblestones. There is also a copy of the guard house and the sign that once marked the border crossing. For anyone interested in the history of the Berlin Wall, this place is a must visit.
Berlin Wall location
For the subway, take line 8 and get off at Kochstraße. For the exact location of Checkpoint Charlie, check out the location map to the right.