The whole world is made up of many, many stories. Some of those stories have been passed on by tongue and those who made a big enough mark are written on history books. These stories are scattered throughout the world and told over and over again through time. It’s easy to get history all mixed up. It would be nice if people were to look back and read about where certain things came from. In this paper, the story behind Berlin Wall up to its fall will be told.
History behind the Berlin Wall
Differences between the Soviet Union and the Western democracies of 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. 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 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.
When World War II came to an end, it was determined at peace conferences in Yalta and Potsdam that Germany be divided into four Allied occupation zones, each for the victorious countries. This was when the Allied Powers took over the defeated country. The east side of Germany went under the socialist leadership of the Soviet Union and was called the German Democratic Republic (GDR). Meanwhile, the west part was further split into three between the countries United States, Great Britain and France. West Germany then became the democratic Federal Republic of Germany (FRG).
Berlin, being the former capital of Germany, was also divided in four sectors, and into two likewise. Because Berlin was found deep into the territory of East Germany, West Berlin became something like an island surrounded by the Soviet zone. Over time, the economy in West Germany including East Berlin flourished. This is the result of the three allied countries providing them with adequate resources. On the contrary, East Germany was currently experiencing the complete opposite.
Why the Berlin Wall was Built
With the Soviet zone constantly struggling economically, it is inevitable that East Germans start fleeing towards the West as soon as they can in search for a better quality of life. There are thousands of East Germans making their escape per day, with approximately 2,400 recorded as the highest number in a single day. The total came to about 3 million with most of the defectors are skilled workers, professionals, scientists, and intellectuals. This caused the labor force of the East to deteriorate even further.
In order to stop the flow of emigrants, the Berlin Wall was built to separate the Soviet zone from the allied side causing it to completely encircle West Berlin. Some sources say that Berlin Wall was built overnight in the wee hours of August 13, 1961 (Blakemore, 2019) while some say it took two weeks for the East German army including the police force and some volunteers to build a makeshift wall (History.com Editors, 2019).
Because the Berlin Wall was built in the middle of the city, many roads were split into two. Some even found the wall right outside the door of their apartment or church. Many families and neighbors were suddenly separated. All modes of transportation were blocked. Approximately 53,000 residents of East Berlins had jobs in the West and were not able to go back to their work the following weekday.
In the more than ten years of occupation before the Berlin Wall was built, citizens from both East and West Berlin were free to go to and fro the other as they please. They crossed the border to go shopping, to visit family, to watch movies, to go to work, see the theaters. There were even trains and subway lines that were used for transportation. After it was built, only diplomats and officials were allowed to cross the border. Sometimes, civilians are also granted to pass under special circumstances.
About the Berlin Wall
The Berlin Wall fulfilled its purpose and successfully stopped the East Berlin citizens from going to West Berlin. It was originally made of just barbed wire and cinder or concrete blocks and runs almost 27 miles long around the city. The Berlin Wall is actually made of two parallel walls named Vorderlandmauer, the outer wall, and Hinterlandmauer, the inner wall. The outer wall stood to about 13 feet or 4 meters maximum while the inner wall reached 10 feet or 3 meters maximum.
After a period of time, the original Berlin Wall was replaced by a more fortified wall built with concrete complete with a “the death strip” in between the two walls. The Death Strip has guards and guard dogs, watchtowers, electrified fences, landmines, gun emplacements, and road blocks. East German soldiers monitor not just the checkpoints but also the whole of the Berlin Wall. They have shoot to kill orders if they spot a person attempting to escape. All of this ensured that the chance of escape is next to impossible.
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. Some even tried to escape using hot air balloons, boarding a train, and riding inside a car’s trunk.
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. The Berlin Wall, as imposing as it was, posed no detriment to determined East Germans who wanted to flee communism. Records show that around 140-170 East Germans were killed, died by accident, or committed suicide while trying to flee through the Berlin Wall fortifications.
Moreover, it is documented that some 600 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 800. Up until this writing, the exact figure is still unknown due to it being politically tainted.
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. 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 28 years of existence, overcoming the Berlin Wall was extremely 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.
Escapes across the Berlin Wall
Within the first year of the erection of the Berlin Wall, 14 recorded escape 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 to cross over the Berlin Wall 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 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.
36 year-old Rudi Armstadt, an East German guard, was fatally shot by 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.
The Fall of the Berlin Wall
On the night of November 9, 1989, it was to be announced that a fairly minor change regarding the loosening of the border checkpoint requirements was to be announced. This was because several mass protests have taken place and the East German leaders thought it best to give the people what they want and make travel easier for East Germans.
Günter Schabowski, an East German politician, was the one to make the announcement in a press conference. He had no time to thoroughly read what he was about to announce. There was a lot of confusion because it sounded like the gates of the Berlin Wall is now completely open to the people. The message was badly misunderstood by the reporters and in no time, East Berlin citizens flooded the borders which caused the guards to eventually open the gates rather than shoot the people.
People flooded into West Berlin and was met by what is known to be the biggest street party in history. Families and friends got to see each other again. There was an outpour of emotion from the Germans. Some East Germans chose to tear down the Berlin Wall using picks and sledgehammers and even kept a piece as memorabilia. And in less than a month, Germany was once again unified.
The Berlin Wall stood for almost 30 years and became the symbol of 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 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. In the end, the victors got what they wanted, at the price of the complete freedom and even separation of the Germans.
History reveals many things about a certain place or culture. It has the power to uncover tales that are not known to many. Reading about it would seem fun for some as it involves discovering new things. Writing about it is a completely different story. Some people are not inclined to the activity of writing and so when a teacher requires that a history paper be written, groans can be heard inside the classroom. If you’re one of the students who is need of assistance in writing, CustomEssayMeister’s here for you. Just send us a message to let us know how we can be of help in your writing assignments.
BBC. (2019, November 5). Fall of Berlin Wall: How 1989 reshaped the modern world. BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-50013048
Blakemore, E. (2019, November 8). Why the Berlin Wall rose—and how it fell. National Geographic. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/reference/modern-history/why-berlin-wall-built-fell/
Hasic, A. (2019, November 7). 'The Gates in the Wall Stand Open Wide.' What Happened the Day the Berlin Wall Fell. Time. https://time.com/5720386/berlin-wall-fall/
History.com Editors. (2019, November 9). Berlin Wall. HISTORY. https://www.history.com/topics/cold-war/berlin-wall
The Independent. (2011, August 11). The Berlin Wall, the ugly symbol of the Cold War. The Independent. https://theindependent.com/opinion/editorial/the-berlin-wall-the-ugly-symbol-of-the-cold-war/article_8eafa9d3-5824-53c3-91f1-80c523f4f7c6.html