Even though the Berlin Wall came into existence in 1961, the events that led to the construction of the wall started happening a long back after the culmination of the Second World War.
At the end of World War II in 1945, the defeated Germany was divided among the four allied powers the United States, Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union. As per the Potsdam Agreement, the eastern part of Germany will be controlled by the Soviet Union and the western portion by the remaining allied powers.
But to the poor fate of Germany, the political ideologies of the Soviet Union and the western powers didn’t go well together marking the beginning of the Cold War.
The capital city of Berlin was situated deep within the areas controlled by the Soviet Union. The city was again divided into East and West Berlin controlled by the Soviet Union and the remaining three allied powers respectively.
Thus, a capitalist portion of the city in the heart of socialist land was not so very much liked by the communist regime in the Eastern Berlin. Hence, they wanted the allied powers to be thrown away from their mainland.
The first attempt of the Soviet Union to expel the allied powers from the city started in 1948 with a blockade that denied the western powers access to West Berlin via land.
Still, the Western powers stood their ground without retreating by supplying the people with food and other necessities through the air, called as the Berlin Airlift that supplied nearly 2.3 million tons of food to the West Berliners.
After a year, the blockade was removed by the Soviet Union in 1949. The capitalist West kept on flourishing economically compared to the East and hence there was a lot of emigration from the Eastern Berlin to the Western Berlin.
Since 1949, till 1958 nearly 3 million East Berliners fled to the Western portion of the city for better jobs and opportunities.
This infuriated the Communist regime that stamped the allied powers as Fascists and hence to protect the city from the evil deeds of the Fascists, Nikita Khrushchev decided to stop travel between the two sides.
The cold reaction by President John F. Kennedy that The US will not be opposing any such action within the limits of the Soviet Berlin emboldened Khrushchev’s decision to guard the 43 kilo meter border between the cities.
Thus, the inhabitants of both the cities woke up on Sunday, the 13th of August 1961 to see the borders being guarded by armed men.
Very soon, after a couple of weeks, there were barbed wire fences running parallel along the borders of the cities and then followed by reinforced concrete structures restricting every movement possible.
Many people were left stranded away from their families; many lost their jobs; everything happened overnight. This brought down the number of emigrating East Berliners.
Anyhow, before the construction of the wall during the months of June and July in 1961 almost 50,000 people had fled to West Berlin. It is, in fact, said that East Berlin had lost one-sixth of its population to the Western part of the city by the time the wall stood up.
There were three checkpoints through which people can cross the border walls after a strong security check: Checkpoint Alpha at Helmstedt, Checkpoint Bravo at Dreilinden and Checkpoint Charlie at Friedrichstrasse.
In spite of these checkpoints, people were not allowed to enter or leave whenever they wished. Movement had been very much restricted. Hence, people tried to cross border stealthily to meet their dear ones or for a better sustenance.
There were ‘shoot at sight’ orders to gun down people crossing the borders. There were 300 watch towers along the boundary with armed men and guard dogs to monitor any surreptitious movement across the wall.
Thus, the piece of land immediately before the wall in the East Berlin is called as the Death Strip. Less than 200 people were killed in the act of crossing the border.
During 1989, a peaceful revolution began in the Eastern Germany demanding the abolition of the partition. Protests grew stronger when nearly half a million people joined the Alexanderplatz demonstration. Meanwhile people had started moving across the borders via Czechoslovakia. The politburo of Soviet Union headed by Egon Krenz didn’t resist this movement because of the mutual agreement with the Czechs.
Accordingly new travel regulations were laid down which was handed over to Gunter Schabowski, a party leader in East Berlin for announcement in a press conference.
Schabowski was very much confused about the regulations that when he answered the questions from journalists post press conference, he mistakenly answered that in effect from now movement across East and West Germany and the wall is permitted instead of saying that the travel regulations come into effect immediately.
There was clearly a miss communication that freed the movement across the two countries and cities.
Millions of people gathered, stood on the wall and started chirping down the wall into pieces on the night of November 9, 1989.
Nearly two million people crossed the history borders for celebration during that week, reports say, making it the greatest street party ever in history. Officially the unification of Germany was declared after a years later on 3rd October 1990.
The remains of the Berlin wall’s broken pieces are kept in museums across the world. A part of the wall is expected to be moved to the US Diplomacy Center. Even you can buy a piece of the wall by ordering it on eBay for $13 USDs.
Image Source: NYT
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