Thursday, May 30, 2013

Berlin: The Wall

The Berlin Wall may be the most iconic landmark in Berlin.  When the wall fell, cheers were heard throughout the world.  The Wall, erected overnight in 1961, was the physical division between West Berlin and East Germany.  It was also the symbolic boundary between democracy and communism during the Cold War.  For 28 years, it kept East Germans from fleeing to the west.

I never quite understood what that meant until visiting Germany.  Did the Berlin Wall divide the entire country into East and West?  The answer is "no."  After the war, Germany was divided into four zones occupied by each of the following: The United States, Great Britain, France and The Soviet Union.  The same was done with the capital city, Berlin.

East Side Gallery - Graffiti
 The major east vs. west division occurred when the Allied Powers combined their sectors of Germany into one, West Germany, in 1949.  The relationship between the Allied Powers and The Soviet Union had become strained based on political philosophies.  West vs. East was really democracy vs. communism.

Berlin Wall Memorial
Since Berlin was situated within East Germany, the sector of Berlin occupied by the Allied Powers was like an "island of democracy within communist East Germany."  Life in East and West Germany was very different and many people living in East Germany wanted out.  They began to flee to West Berlin, and though some were stopped, hundreds of thousands made it across the border.  They were housed for a short time and then flown to West Germany.

Berlin Wall Memorial
Piece of the Berlin Wall

East Germany was desperate to keep its citizens.  There were rumors for quite sometime that something would be done to tighten the border between East and West Berlin.  At this point, the border was very fluid.  Many Berliners crossed the border regularly for operas, plays and soccer games.  Approximately 60,000 Berliners crossed the border into West Berlin daily for better paying jobs.

On the night of August 12-13, 1961, everything changed.  Just past midnight soldiers and construction workers tore up streets and dug holes to place posts for the wall.  They put up barbed wire and cut the telephone lines between East and West Berlin.  Berliners awoke to shock the next morning.  Whichever side of the border they slept on that night, they were stuck on for decades.

East Side Gallery
The wall covered hundreds of miles and wrapped around the entirety of West Berlin, completely cutting West Berlin off from the rest of East Germany.  The barbed wire was soon replaced with a more permanent structure made out of concrete blocks.  Then in 1965, that was replaced with a concrete wall supported by steel girders.  The final version of the wall, built between 1975 and 1980, consisted of concrete slabs nearly 12 ft high with a smooth pipe running across the top to prevent people from scaling the wall.

East Side Gallery
In 1989, many East Germans were fleeing through Hungary.  When the East German government stopped travel to Hungary, the people began to flee through Czechoslovakia.  Eventually the East German government allowed people to leave provided that they would not return.  On October 18, 1989, longtime East German leader, Erich Honecker resigned and was replaced by Egon Krenz.  Demonstrations broke out all over East Germany.  The wave of refugees had increased with many people fleeing through Hungary via Czechoslovakia or though the West German Embassy in Prague.  On November 9th, Krenz decided to allow people to leave directly by crossing the border from East to West Germany, including West Berlin.  The gates of the wall were ordered to be opened.

East Side Gallery
Though the wall is considered to have fallen on November 9th, it was not fully demolished on that date.  People came to the wall with sledgehammers and hammers to chip parts of the wall as souvenirs.  Bulldozers removed parts of the wall to reestablish old roads and create new crossings.  Soon West Germans and West Berliners were allowed to freely cross the border into East Germany.  The official dismantling of the wall by East German military began on June 13, 1990 and lasted until November 1991.  On July 1, 1990, East Germany adopted the currency of the West and border patrol officially ceased.  Only a few small sections of the wall were left as memorials.  Today, the East Side Gallery is the longest stretch still standing.

The East Side Gallery has become a canvas for artists from all over the world.


  1. Thanks Julie! I love history - especially because I can really remember this! It's amazing that you and Gabe got to experience it for yourselves.

    1. Thanks! We enjoyed it! I will be posting lots more... and I have tons of photos that I won't be posting. We can show you next time we see you!