Berlin wall is the wall that divided the world. More than a physical barrier the Berlin wall stood as a solid political and ideological symbol of the divide between a democratic Western Germany and a Communist Eastern Germany. Looking back on the rise and fall of the Berlin wall 30 years on:
WHAT WAS BERLIN WALL
A guarded concrete wall that physically and ideologically divided Germany’s capital, the Berlin wall stood tall between 1961 and 1989.
Construction of the wall commenced on August 13, 1961, by the German Democratic Republic (GDR) to ensure, people from East Germany did not emigrate to West Germany. The wall finally fell on November 9, 1989 after East Germany declared all the crossing points along the wall open.
BACKDROP TO THE BUILDING OF THE WALL
In 1949 a war torn Germany formally split into two independent nations—The Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic—with the FDR allied to the Western Democracies led by the US and the GDR allied to the Soviet Union led by Russia. These superpowers had growing geopolitical tension between them, in what is today known as the cold-war. The city of Berlin, was at the centre of this heated split, with one part under the eastern bloc and the remaining three with the west under US, Britain and France.
Needless to say that the ideologies of the two power blocs were enforced on the Germans, with East Germany following communism and the west following a democratic approach.
WHY WAS THE WALL BUILT
Free flow of people between the two parts was allowed through Berlin as East Germany had sealed its mainland border from the west along the Elbe River and the mountains of Harz with barbed wire and fire-zones.
As time passed, many people from East Germany migrated to the West in search of better jobs and infrastructure.
One in six people fled from the east to the west. This irked the GDR as its economy was deeply affected due to this ‘brain-drain.’ Thus in a bid to halt this migration, East German Communists were given the permission by Moscow to close the border and build a physical barrier along it.
With information from their informers in the western part, that the west will not react, East German Police in a top-secret operation, established a human cordon along the border with West Berlin. The border forces then went on to build a solid breeze block wall topped with barbed-wire from what was earlier just a wire-mesh fence.
THE WALL AND ATTEMPTS TO CROSS IT
The Berlin Wall was more than 140 kilometres long. The houses contained between the fences were razed and the inhabitants relocated, thus establishing what later became known as the death strip. The death strip was covered with raked sand or gravel, rendering footprints easy to notice, easing the detection of trespassers and also enabling officers to see which guards had neglected their task. It offered no cover, and, most importantly, it offered clear fields of fire for the Wall guards.
The top of the wall was lined with a smooth pipe, intended to make it more difficult to scale. The Wall was reinforced by mesh fencing, signal fencing, anti-vehicle trenches, barbed wire, dogs on long lines, “beds of nails” (also known as “Stalin’s Carpet”) under balconies hanging over the “death strip”, there were over 116 watchtowers, and 20 bunkers with hundreds of guards. This version of the Wall is the one most commonly seen in photographs, and the surviving fragments of the Wall in Berlin and elsewhere around the world are generally pieces of the fourth-generation Wall.
There were nine border crossings between East and West Berlin. These allowed visits by West Berliners, other West Germans, Western foreigners and Allied personnel into East Berlin, as well as visits by GDR citizens and citizens of other socialist countries into West Berlin, provided that they held the necessary permits.
FALL OF THE BERLIN WALL
Things started to deteriorate for the Eastern Bloc in the 1980s with the start of an energy crisis and political struggle within the bloc. Rising civil unrest also put pressure on the East German Government. However, what started the downfall of the GDR was the fail of the ‘Íron Curtain’ between Hungary and Austria. The opening of that border led to several East Germans migrating to West Germany through Hungary. However, this attempt was quickly blocked, but East Germans began to camp at the West German embassies across the Eastern Bloc and refused to return. Meanwhile, demonstrations began within East Germany in full swing.
East Germany was pressurised to relax some of its regulations on travel to West Germany. On November 9, 1989, at a press conference to announce the same an East German spokesman Gunter Schabowski announced that East Germans would be free to travel into West Germany, starting immediately. However, he failed to clarify that some regulations would still apply. This led to the western media reporting that the border had been opened, leading to large crowds gathering at either sides of the checkpoints. Eventually, passports checks were abandoned and people crossed the border unrestricted. The evening on November 9, 1989 is known as the night the wall came down.
The Berlin wall had fallen and this fall marked the beginning of the unification of Germany which took place on October 3, 1990.
By Kamlesh Tripathi
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