Station 4 The Berlin Wall

Download 22.5 Kb.
Size22.5 Kb.

Station 4 The Berlin Wall

The Cold War- A Shared Sky
Berlin truly epitomized the Cold War in Europe. This was where it all started with the blockade of 1948, and where 40 years on it all came to an end. Two dates, one dramatic, the other a joyful occasion, mark the high points; 13th August 1961, when the Wall went up ; 9th November 1989, when it came down.

The Berlin problem already lay between the lines of the Interallied documents drawn up at the end of the Second World War. Under the terms of the agreements of 1944-1945 signed by the United States, the Soviet Union, Great Britain and France, the defeated Germany was divided up into four occupation zones overseen by four commanders-in-chief, who together formed the Control Council. Based in the former capital of the Reich. Also divided up into four sectors headed by four military governors gathered in the Kommandatura, this partitioning left Berlin (883 km² / 340 sq. mi.) stranded in the midst of the Soviet zone, 180 kilometres (110 mi.) from the border with the western zones. This unusual geopolitical situation became difficult to handle once Interallied relations began to deteriorate.

Crisis of 1958 - Operation Wall of China-

From 27th November 1958, ten years after the blockade, Berlin was the scene of another international crisis when Nikita Khrushchev issued an ultimatum to the three western powers, giving them six months to turn West Berlin into a " demilitarized free city ", failing which he would sign a separate peace treaty with East Germany. This ultimatum marked the start of a long crisis which came to a head and to an end with the building of the Wall. Talks on Berlin between the Soviets and the West, first in Geneva (May-August 1959), then in Paris (May 1960) and finally in Vienna (June 1961), failed to produce results.

Meanwhile, tension continued to rise around Berlin, as refugees continued to flock out of East Germany, destabilizing the regime. Ulbricht repeatedly asked Khrushchev for permission to take radical steps. At the meeting of Communist Party heads in Moscow on 5th August, he finally got what he wanted – closure of the border between East and West Berlin. Two days later, Khrushchev announced in a radio broadcast that this " handy escape route " via West Berlin absolutely had to be closed. This disturbing news instilled " fear of the closing door " among would-be escapees, and a further upsurge in the number of refugees – over four thousand on 12th August alone!

Operation " Wall of China " was secretly decided on by Ulbricht and planned by Honecker. It actually began at around 4 p.m. on 12th August, when Ulbricht signed the orders to close the border and sent them on to Honecker. In preparation for this operation, 40 kilometres (25 mi.) of barbed wire and thousands of posts were stored in barracks. The police and workers’ militias set up in the wake of the June 1953 riots were mobilized. The Interior Ministry announced that East German citizens would now need a " special authorization " to enter West Berlin. At midnight, the security services were put on the alert; East Berlin was covered by army units (NVA); 25 000 armed militiamen and the People’s Police (Vopos) armed with kalachnikovs were posted at six-foot intervals along the demarcation line. On 13th August 1961, a holiday Sunday, at 1.11 in the morning, the official East German press agency announced that the Warsaw Pact countries had asked the East German government to set up " effective controls " in and around Berlin. Within an hour, 67 of the 81 crossing points were sealed off, soon followed by another seven. All traffic was stopped between East Germany and West Berlin. The underground and the S-Bahn linking the two sections of the city were no longer in operation.


Under the watchful eye of the police and the army, barbed wire and wire entanglements were placed across access points to West Berlin.

Roads were dug up and barricades erected. Within a matter of hours, the entire border around West Berlin was under control.

Access to West Berlin was now barred to East Berliners and East Germans; then on 23rd August, it became impossible for West Berliners to visit the East without a residence permit.

To prevent them from getting out The Wall System

Contrary to the claim of East German propaganda, the Wall was not an " antifascist wall of protection " intended to avoid aggression from the West. It was entirely for domestic use, being designed not to stop people getting in but to prevent them getting out. In this way, on 21st June 1963, the East German Defence Minister issued a decree setting up a 30 to 100 metre wide border zone around West Berlin where residents were subjected to strict controls. This zone was placed under close surveillance and anyone entering it required a special authorization or face a heavy penalty. Also, the automatic firing systems were on the eastern side as well; they were dismantled in 1984, in exchange for two substantial loans granted to East Germany by the federal government.

As time passed, the Wall was gradually perfected and became more and more impassible. Altogether it was overhauled four times over. To begin with, it was made up of 12 kilometres (7.5 mi.) of concrete slabs and 137 kilometres (86 mi.) of barbed wire, covered from 116 watch towers, including 32 along the East-West Berlin border. After October 1964, it was gradually strengthened, doubled up and transformed into a " modern border " which took on its final appearance from around 1979-1980.

The Wall cut through 192 streets (97 between East and West Berlin and 95 between West Berlin and East Germany), 32 railway lines, 8 S-Bahn and 4 underground lines, 3 autobahns and several rivers and lakes. On the waterways, the Wall consisted of submerged railings under constant surveillance from patrol boats.

The Wall was an anomaly that gave rise to a number of peculiarities.

As it was mostly built a little back from the sector demarcation line, in places like Tiergarten, Kreuzberg and the south of the city, there was a sign to indicate exactly where the border was. In this way, anyone approaching the Wall from the west found themselves " on the other side " and were in danger of being arrested by East German guards coming through iron gates in the Wall.

The Wall cut off the small Berlin exclave of Steinstücken, located in East Germany but part of the American sector. This exclave received supplies and protection from US forces until a road was built in 1971. A similar situation was to be found at Eiskeller, an exclave in the British sector.


The Role of the USSR -The Fall of the Wall

The Wall fell as the combined result of both internal and external pressures. The evolution of the USSR played a crucial role in this process.

On his first official visit to West Germany in May 1989, Mikhaïl Gorbachev, whose ambition was to save his country from decline and ruin through an innovative policy based on restructuring (perestroïka) and openness (glasnost), informed Chancellor Kohl that the Brezhnev doctrine had been abandoned ; Moscow was no longer willing to use force to prevent democratic transformation of its satellite states. This was the kiss of death for East Germany in the short-term, for her very existence had no justification apart from ideology.

Immediately, on 2nd May, Hungary decided to pull down the iron curtain and on 11th September she opened up her border with Austria. These measures led Germans to pour out of East Germany. Others sought refuge in the West German embassies in Prague and Warsaw. Within six months, over 220 000 East Germans had passed over to the West.

Meanwhile, opposition groups (New Forum, Democracy Now, Democratic Renewal), wishing to change East Germany from within, grew up in the shelter of the churches and protested against the authorities in power in East Berlin.

In Leipzig, the Peace Prayers and Monday demonstrations drew more and more non violent protesters, despite brutal police intervention : 1 000 demonstrators on 4th September, 120 000 on 16th October, chanting political slogans : " Free elections ", " We are staying here ", " We are the People "...

On 7th October East Germany celebrated its fortieth anniversary, but the celebrating turned into protest against the régime which made over 1 000 arrests. As guest of honour, Gorbachev was welcomed in front of the Palace of the Republic by demonstrators’ pleas of " Gorbi, help us! ". He then announced that " whoever comes too late is punished by life " (Wer zu spät kommt, den bestraft das Leben). This warning was for the benefit of the SED leaders who immediately ousted Honecker, to be replaced on 18th October by the apparatchik Egon Krenz, in turn forced to resign, on 3rd December.



Map of Berlin-1961-1989
tation 4 –Berlin Wall Maps

Map of Germany-1945-1990

Share with your friends:

The database is protected by copyright © 2020
send message

    Main page