Why was the Berlin Wall Built?
A few tentative steps across Checkpoint Charlie and you were transported to a different world. One side had McDonalds, Coke, Toyota cars and a democratically elected government. Across the Checkpoint, was a world of state-owned factories, rows and rows of identical apartments, and a self-imposed government. This was the world of the two Berlins divided by barbed wire, watch dogs, tanks, and an imposing wall.
In 1945, following World War II, Germany was divided into two countries – East Germany and West Germany. East Germany was controlled by the communist regime of the Soviet Union while West Germany became a democracy supported by the United States. Berlin, the former capital city, although entirely within East German borders, was also split into two.
On August 13, 1961, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) decided to block off East Berlin and West Berlin by means of a barbed wire. Streets were torn up, and barricades erected. Rail lines and the subway between East and West Berlin was torn up.
People of East Berlin and the GDR were no longer allowed to enter West Berlin disrupting 60,000 commuters who were employed in West Berlin. Within the year, construction work began to build a solid wall separating the two cities.
By September, people living near the border were forcibly evacuated from their houses. Citizens living in close proximity to the border had to register themselves with the police. Exactly a year after the division, an 18-year-old boy, Peter Fechter, of East Berlin, was shot down by the East Berlin border patrol when he attempted to escape over the wall.
The border separating West Berlin and East Berlin had a total length of 166 km. It cut through 192 streets, 97 of them leading to East Berlin and 95 into the GDR. However since the border division was staggered, a solid 107 km long wall was erected. The wall was made up of concrete segments erected to a height of four metres (roughly 13 feet), with an additional concrete tube on top.
On the side of East Berlin bright illumination lit up the entire area. Further a trench was dug to prevent vehicles from breaking through. Not content with these precautions, the area was patrolled day and night, with a separate corridor guarded by vicious guard dogs, watchtowers, and a second wall. If by chance some one did manage to cross these barriers, they were shot without a warning.
Many families were separated by the erection of this barricade. Relatives who wanted to see their loved ones in East Berlin had to have a valid permit. For 28 years the Wall became a physical separator and cloaked the goings on behind Communist Russia and created a figurative Iron curtain.
In 1989, after months of discussion, East Germany decided to tentatively open the barrier. On November 9, Günter Schabowski, leader of East Berlin’s communist party, stated that the border would be opened for ‘private trips abroad’.
That day, the entire world watched some truly amazing scenes on TV as East Berliners poured through the checkpoints to be greeted by West Berliners. Champagne flowed and people danced on the wall at Brandenburg Gate, the gateway between the two cities.
On November 10, demolition work on the wall began with the aim of creating new border crossings. Two days later, a checkpoint at the Potsdamer Platz was opened, and on December 22, a checkpoint for pedestrians was opened at the Brandenburg Gate. Souvenir hunters hammered out pieces of the wall and chunks of the wall were even sold.
On July 1 1990, an economic, monetary and social union between East and West Germany was formed uniting the two cities. The only reminder of the wall is a red line painted on the pavement at the former ‘Checkpoint Charlie’ to mark the course of the former Berlin wall.
In August 13 1998, a wall memorial was inaugurated at the Bernauer Strasse (former GDR) consisting of a portion of the Berlin wall.
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