Berlin Wall, the physical barrier that separated East Germany from West Germany, holds a significant place in the history of Germany. The construction of the barrier led to the separation of Germany into two different 'worlds', which were isolated from each other for over two decades. The period from 1961 to 1989, stretching on from the construction of the wall to its fall, witnessed the killing of several Germans, who were trying to flee from East to West Berlin. In this article, we have given detailed history of Berlin Wall, along with some interesting information on its background and origin.
Interesting Information On Background And Origin Of Berlin Wall
When the World War II came to an end, the remaining parts of Nazi Germany, west of the Oder-Neisse line, were divided into four zones, each occupied by the Allied powers, including Americans, Soviets, French and the British. The capital of Germany, Berlin, was also divided into four sectors, even though the city was located in the interiors of the Soviet zone. The Allied powers decided to govern Germany in unison, within the postwar borders of the country. However, when the Cold War tensions crept in, the American, British and French zones clubbed their zones together, to form the Federal Republic of Germany and West Berlin, in 1949. The Soviet zone, which was excluded, formed the German Democratic Republic, which also included East Berlin.
Two German States
The Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) took shape of a Western capitalist country, constituting a democratic parliamentary government and a social market economy. The economy in the region continued to grow in the 1950s. On the other side, the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) formed an authoritarian government, which followed a Soviet-style planned economy. As the economy in West Germany continued to grow and the standard of living underwent a considerable up gradation, the residents of East Germany wanted to shift their base to West Germany.
In order to stop the free movement of West Germany residents to East Germany, East German leaders arranged a meeting with the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, in Moscow, on 1st April 1952. During the discussion, Stalin's foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov proposed that the East Germans should bring in a system of passes for the entry of West Germans, especially the Western agents, to their territory. Citing the situation as an intolerable one, Stalin agreed to the proposal. Moreover, he asserted that the East Germans should build up their border defenses, not just to demarcate the line between East and West Germany, but to make it dangerous for the people on the other side to cross it. In addition, he proposed that the Germans would guard the line of defense with their lives.
After closing the inner German border between East and West Germany, a barbed-wire fence was erected. Although the border between the Western and Eastern sectors of Berlin remained open, restrictions were brought about in the movement of traffic between the Soviet and the Western sectors. As a result, Berlin became a trouble spot for tension between the two superpowers - the United States and the Soviet Union. The East Germans, desperately seeking an escape from the German Democratic Republic (GDR), were attracted to Berlin.
Construction Of Berlin Wall
An international press conference was held on 15 June 1961, in which the First Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party and GDR State Council chairman Walter Ulbricht asserted that no one intended to erect a wall between the two German States - East & West. However, on 12 August 1961, Ulbricht signed the order to close the border and build a wall, at a garden party arranged at a government guest house in Dollnsee, in East Berlin. The leaders of the GDR were also present on the occasion.
At midnight, the police and units of the East German army began closing the border between the two German States and shut it down completely on the following morning i.e. on 13th August 1961. This marked the beginning of the construction of the Berlin Wall. Consequently, East German troops and workers started tearing up the streets, running alongside the border, to make way for the movement of vehicles and to install barbed wire entanglements and fences along the 97 miles, to divide West and East Berlin.
The fence was installed in such a way that it didn't occupy even an inch of West Berlin territory. It was build slightly inside East Berlin or East German territory. On 15 August 1961, large concrete blocks were put in place, to convert the fence into a strong wall. When the Berlin Wall was under construction, armed NVA and KDA soldiers were assigned to guard it, with orders to shoot anyone who attempted to destroy it. To make the wall stronger, fences, and other obstacles were built alongside the inner German border, between East and West Germany, and minefields were included in the design of the construction.
The immediate effects of the construction of Berlin Wall were devastating. Due to the erection of the barrier, the vast majority of East Germans could no longer move to West Germany. As a result, a number of families were spilt, while the residents of East Berlin employed in the West were thrown out of their jobs. West Berlin emerged as an abandoned enclave, in a hostile land. On the other side, the populace of West Berlin protested against the construction of Berlin Wall, led by Mayor Willy Brandt. They also criticized the United States for giving no response.
A parallel fence, 100 meters farther into East German territory, was built in June 1962. The houses that came in between the fences were destroyed and the residents were relocated. This gave rise to No Man's Land, which later came to be known as the Death Strip. Covered with raked gravel, the Death Strip offered clear fields of fire for the Wall guards.
Fall Of Berlin Wall
On 23 August 1989, Hungary removed its physical border defense with Austria. In the following month, around 13000 East German tourists in Hungary fled to Austria. Hungarians stopped East Germans from crossing the border and returned them to Budapest. As a result, the East Germans crowded in the West German embassy and refrained from returning to East Germany. In response to this, the East German government stopped permitting its people to travel to Hungary. This gave rise to a similar incident in Czechoslovakia.
Following the restriction on travel, mass demonstrations began to take shape in East Germany, leading to the resignation of its long-time leader - Erich Honecker. On the account of his resignation, on 18 October 1989, Egon Krenz assumed Honecker's position. In the meantime, the number of refugees leaving East Germany for the West had increased manifold. On 9 November 1989, the politburo, led by Krenz Government, decided to permit the refugees to go out.
The refugees were to move directly through crossing points between East Germany and West Germany, including West Berlin. Demanding an entry to West Berlin, thousands of East Berlin residents crowded the checkpoints in the Berlin Wall and the wall guards allowed them to get through. Ultimately, the enthusiastic East Berliners entered the West Berlin territory. They were whole-heartedly welcomed by their West Berliners, on 9 November 1989, which is considered the day of the fall of the Berlin Wall.