Book Report On The Berlin Wall
Differences between the Soviet Union and the Western democracies (Britain, France, and the United States) occupying post-war Germany already was evident in the country’s partition in 1945 following the collapse of the Nazi regime. Inevitably, capital Berlin, located in East Germany, also had to be partitioned. The Berlin Wall, erected in 1961, for almost thirty years, became the metaphor for the profundity of the sociopolitical and emotional gap that cut across Germany and its people. The story of the Berlin Wall embodied the geopolitical climate and tensions which the entire world was a helpless spectator to; its dismantling marked the beginning of the end of communism in Europe and the restoration of democracy and freedom both in Germany and the former Soviet-bloc states.
In a move that had been brewing due to stark ideological differences between World War II Allies, the Berlin Wall was built to emphasize these same differences, which were set aside during wartime due to the presence of a common enemy. With the defeat of Germany, there was no longer a reason for the Allies to remain allies. The differences grew more and more apparent, palpable, and irreconcilable. With Germany in rubble, the Western Allies aimed to provide massive economic assistance to help Germany back on its feet. The Soviet Union vehemently disagreed with the proposal, and instead, and eventually installed a puppet government in East Germany in 1949, as part of “communizing” Eastern Europe. This move by the Soviet Union proved to be the sparkplug for the Cold War that had already begun between the two remaining superpowers – the United States and its allies, and the Soviet Union and the communist world. In essence, the Berlin Wall stood as the enduring symbol of the Cold War. It must be understood that the Cold War was not an outbreak of armed conflict, but a series of moves of strategic diplomacy in the hope landing the ultimate prize – Germany.
With Berlin divided in four sectors representing France, Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union, a wall was built to separate the Soviet sector (hence East German) from the other ones, completely encircling West Berlin. It dissected right through the heart of the city. People fleeing communist East Berlin grew exponentially almost immediately, and the Soviet government and the East German state decided to build a wall. The wall would increase in height and mass as the years passed; concrete blocks and barbed wire would quickly be complemented by landmines, searchlights, watchtowers, trenches, and the presence of large numbers of East German police armed with machine guns and hundreds of killer guard dogs. The Berlin Wall, in no time, evolved from being a wall to a wall with an adjacent “death strip,” that ensured that escape was next to impossible, as the strip composed of anti-vehicle trenches, fakir beds, and an assortment of other defences.
The Berlin Wall, as imposing as it was, posed no detriment to determined East Germans who wanted to flee communism. Records state that at least one hundred and forty East Germans were killed, died by accident, or committed suicide while trying to flee through the Berlin Wall fortifications. Moreover, it is documented that a total of eight East German Berlin Wall guards were killed by escapees, comrades, by deserters, or a West Berlin policeman by accident or deliberately while on duty. Figures vary, though. Human rights groups maintain that the exact number of fatalities is roughly eight hundred. Up until this writing, the exact figure is still unknown due to it being politically tainted. Nevertheless, in efforts replete with both courage and sheer desperation, attempts ranged from the practical to the absurd; people leaping from windows from higher floors, wading through mud, some swam through freezing waters of Berlin’s canals and rivers, others crept in sewers, while the bolder ones rammed steel-fortified trucks through the wall itself. These desperate attempts of East Germans to unshackle themselves from Soviet communist totalitarianism brought to light the injustice incurred by ideological differences between East and West, and the enormous difference between freedom and suppression.
Heroism came in various and sometimes amusing forms. Still, every recorded success was a product of sheer ingenuity and pure will. In essence, each and every successful effort in hurdling the Berlin Wall was a tour de force in and of itself. The reason is obvious: throughout its twenty-eight years of existence, overcoming the Berlin Wall would become increasingly difficult. Escape became more and more improbable with the addition of one physical component after another. But desperation, undaunted will, occasional foolhardiness, and unabashed courage were logical by-products of the city’s separation – families separated, livelihoods abandoned, friendships and relationships severed.
Within the first year of the erection of the Berlin Wall, fourteen recorded attempts were made. Because of its still precarious fortification, many attempted the obvious – driving through the wall. In 1966, Heinz Meixner, an East Berlin worker, wanted to marry his fiancée back in his home country of Austria but was denied permission. In an act of shrewd courage and determined love, Meixner rented a low convertible for him and his to-be wife and mother-in-law to drive through checkpoint upon entry to West Berlin. The clincher was his decision to remove the windshield of the convertible prior to the escape, enabling it to speedily pass through the checkpoint’s horizontal bar while ducking and gas pedal intently pressed to the max.
Horst Klein, a staunch anti-communist, had been prohibited from performing in East Germany. Fully committed to defecting to West Berlin, he used his adeptness at tightrope to flee to the West. In December 1962, Klein carried out the necessary scaling from a dead electricity pole close to the Berlin Wall onto West Berlin. He then proceeded to stealthily tightrope the unused cable high above the pacing wall guards. Close to completing the feat, the cold crept into his hands and he fell from the rope. Fortunately, he only broke his arms, but he landed in the safety of West Berlin.
One must not be tempted to think that all attempts were were success stories. Peter Fechter, an 18-year-old East German bricklayer, was shot and killed by East German guards as he was about to mount the wall’s final layer. His companion Helmut Kulbeik was fortunate enough to have crossed over. The gruesome manner of Fechter’s death, the East German guards’ obstinate reluctance to provide him immediate medical attention, all before the eyes of West Berliners, who indignantly yelled “murderers!” at the wake of his death, made Fechter’s death the one of the most recognizable in the history of the Berlin Wall.
Thirty-six year-old Rudi Armstadt, an East German guard, was fatally shot by Hans Pluschke, a West German Berlin Wall guard on August 14, 1962. In the thick of both successful and unsuccessful attempts, a quarter of a century later, then U.S. President Ronald Reagan implored the leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev in his impassioned “Tear down this wall!” speech, on June 12, 1987.
A wave of change, along with the unhesitating bureaucracy, immediately ensued. On November 9, 1989, the fall of the Berlin Wall started. With its dismantling crept in democracy, freedom, and the loosening of communism’s iron grip on Eastern Europe. For almost three decades, the Berlin Wall stood as a cold symbol of the Europe’s division, the political tug of war between the Soviet Union communist states and the democratic blog led by the United States, with Germany serving as the slippery rope. Aside from being a social, political, ideological, and physical gap, the Berlin Wall, at many points during its life span, also represented the extremes, defeat and trumph of the human spirit – goodwill and provocation, hope and hopelessness, determination and complacency, the search for freedom, and the agony of suppression. With its collapse, these things became certain – a reunified Berlin and Germany, hope for the future, for the German people and the world in general.