|The Berlin Wall
At the end of the Second World War the Allies split Germany into four occupational zones: the eastern part went to the Soviet Union and the rest was divided by the USA, the UK and France. Although Berlin was completely inside the Soviet sector it was also subject to a four-way split between the Allies. In 1949 the western powers combined to form the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) and shortly afterwards the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) came into existence in the area controlled by the Soviets with East Berlin as its capital.
Individuals living in West Germany had a higher standard of living than their counterparts in East Germany and thousands were leaving East Berlin which was fast losing its labour force as well as its population. Many of those were essential personnel such as engineers, doctors and teachers. In 1960 alone around 200,000 people were thought to have crossed over to the west and the GDR was on the verge of collapsing. The wall was started on the 13th August 1961when temporary barriers were put up. The official reason was to keep ‘western fascists’ out of the GDR but the real reason was to stop the exodus of Germans from east to west.
It took just two weeks to complete a makeshift wall built of concrete blocks and barbed wire, and GDR citizens could no longer cross to the west. The Wall was built by building workers from East Berlin under the strict supervision of GDR border guards. Streets and neighbourhoods were cut off from each other and transport links were cut across the city.
Before the wall was built Berliners could move freely from one side of the city to the other but after that the only way through was via one of three checkpoints: Alpha, Bravo and Charlie. Checkpoint Charlie was the scene of a flashpoint in 1961 when Soviet and American tanks faced each other across the border and ‘the two superpowers came close to kicking off a third world war than in any other cold-war confrontation’ (Collitt, 2011). By 1962 this was the only checkpoint where foreigners could cross the border.
The wall “slowed the emigration almost to a trickle. Despite the measures taken to stop them, in the 28 years of its existence some 5,000 people are thought to have successfully escaped” (Henley, 2009). By 1962 Checkpoint Charlie was the only checkpoint where foreign civilians could cross the border.
In 1962 a parallel fence was built 100 metres further into East Berlin. In between was an area known as the “Death Strip” made with soft sand which was heavily guarded. It is believed that at least 171 people were killed trying to get under, over or around the Berlin Wall. Over time East German officials replaced the makeshift wall with a stronger, sturdier wall. The final version was completed in 1980 and made of 45,000 separate sections of reinforced concrete each 12 feet high and almost 4 feet wide. This was designed to stop anyone trying to drive a car through the barricades. Along the wall were 116 watchtowers, and the wall was also lined with a smooth pipe to make it more difficult to climb. The Berlin Wall did not just run though the centre of Berlin: it extended to over 100 km and cut off West Berlin from all of East Germany.
The fall of the wall took everyone by surprise. The authority of the USSR over the communist bloc was already weakening in places such as Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia as well as East Germany when a sudden announcement was made by an official from the GDR government in November, 1989. Gunter Schabobowski declared that “permanent relocations can be done through all border checkpoints between the GDR (East Germany) into the FRG (West Germany) or West Berlin.” (Rosenberg)
East Germans went to the border and found that the border guards were allowing people to pass through. More and more people came to the wall from both sides and soon began to chip at the wall with hammers picks and chisels. Later cranes and bulldozers and cranes knocked down the wall amidst celebrating crowds of people.
Pieces of the wall can now be found in museums and private collections. A complete section of the wall of around 140 metres was re-erected by the ‘Allied Museum ’where it is on display. The symbolic boundary between capitalism and communism was no more and in October 1990 East and West Germany were reunited into one nation.
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