A Country Divided
On August 13th, 1961, under the cover of night, East German troops entered the quiet streets of Berlin and began erecting barbed wire fences to block East Berlin from West Berlin. This would mark the first stages of the planned construction of the Berlin Wall . The events leading to the dividing wall began with Germany's defeat in World War II. Germany was divided into four zones, the Soviet Union governed the East, Britain the North, France the West and the U.S. the South.
Berlin, German's Capital, was also divided into four sectors and administered by the Soviet Union, America, United Kingdom and France.
Cold War & Berlin Airlifts
Relations between the Western Allies and the USSR began to deteriorate, beginning what was eventually to become known as the "Cold War".
On the 24th June 1948, the Soviets attempted to annex Berlin by blocking all access via roads, canals and railway lines into the western part of the city. In response, the British & American air forces began the Berlin Airlifts. For over eleven months they flew in food and supplies to the isolated sector, before the USSR gave in on the 12th of May 1949.
The Western Allies joined their zones and formed the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) and the Soviets formed the German Democratic Republic (East Germany).
In the following years the living standards in West Germany & West Berlin increased substantially, with help from financial assistance given through the Marshall Plan (European Recovery Program). In East Germany and East Berlin a communist system was established but many people grew dissatisfied with the economic and political conditions. As West Germany and West Berlin flourished East Germany and East Berlin spiralled downwards. So bad were the conditions that on the 17th of June, 300,000 workers from GDR (East Germany) & East Berlin went on strike to protest for higher work quotas for the same wage. The strike turned violent after the protestors stormed public buildings. The authorities ordered Soviet tanks into Berlin to crush the uprising. Over 100 workers died.
This resulted in a large number of skilled labourers from East Germany migrating into West Berlin & West Germany.
The Berlin Wall
As a consequence, on August 12th, 1961 Walter Ulbricht (East German Leader) signed the commands to close the border which divided West Berlin and East Berlin. On the night of August 13th the railway services ceased , telephone lines were cut and the East German troops began to tear up streets and erect barbed wire fences closing off the East to the West. Originally consisting of just barbed wire and concrete barriers ,within months the first Berlin Wall was erected. The East German Government referred to the wall as the "Anti- Fascist Protection Barrier". Entry into East Berlin by tourists, diplomats or military personnel from the west was only allowed through three checkpoints. Using the phonetic alphabet system the checkpoints were named Checkpoint Alpha (Helmstedt), Checkpoint Bravo (Dreilinden) and Checkpoint Charlie (Friedrchstrasse). West Berliners were forbidden to enter East Berlin and East Berliners were forbidden to enter West Berlin. Border patrols and guardhouses were set up along the wall with strict instructions to shoot anyone attempting to cross borders. When the wall was finally completed it stretched over 160km (100miles) and was between 3-4m (10-13ft) high . 45km (28m) of the wall cut through the heart of Berlin ,whilst the rest ran around the city to block any access. The East Berlin government ordered the wall to be painted white, to make it easy for the guards to spot and shoot at anyone trying to scale it. The West Berlin side was covered in graffiti from Checkpoint Charlie to the Brandenburg Gate. A second wall was erected to run parallel with the first wall. Inside these walls, known as the "death zone", were over 290 watchtowers, land mines, searchlights and specially trained attack dogs. You would think no one would have even attempted to try and escape over the wall, but they did. It is estimated between 5,000 to 16,000 people successful outsmarted the guards and the big white wall. Unfortunately not all had happy endings, it is believed over 250 people died in their attempts and a further 3,000 were arrested (later to be executed or imprisoned for life). Unfortunately the true statistics of how many people perished will probably never be known or told.
Those Who Dared
There have been many extraordinary feats of bravery and courage by East Berliners trying to find freedom from beyond the walls. Some of the most bizarre included ;a butcher who designed a bulletproof meat vest which was made up of ham and roasts to absorb the bullets as he flung himself over the barbed wire fence; a family gathered up bits of old fabric and sewed them together to make their own hot air balloon; some children were flung out of windows over the wall to waiting West Berlin firemen, who caught them in nets; some even built their own flying foxes and chairlifts, which resulted in the banning of certain types of rope for sale. Tunnels were being dug all over East Berlin and even old sewer systems provided dirty but easy escape routes. Unfortunately the authorities were constantly on the look out for disappearing East Berliners, but the East Berliners just kept getting smarter.
And Then The Wall Came Down
On 9th November 1989, following massive demonstrations all over Eastern Europe, Gunter Schabowski (leader of East Berlin's Communist Party) announced the easing of border restrictions. This meant only one thing to the locals, the wall must come down . By the following day the wall had come tumbling down. People flocked to the streets armed with hammers, chisels and pickaxes. Images of Berliners, from the very young to the very old, flashed around the world as they chipped away at the concrete baracade. Many stood in disbelief as they saw for the first time a clear view of the West. The Brandenburg Gate, which was built as a symbol of peace, became the central celebration area. On 3rd October 1990 Germany was officially reunified and the city celebrated long into the night . Germany had been divided politically for over 40 years and physically for 28 years, it was a time for celebrations.