To fully understand why The Berlin Wall was assembled, one must know of the events that took place. This wall for 28 years separated families, friends and a nation. Perhaps the major reasons it was assembled were for political and economical issues. Politically, the West side was interfering with the Russian Sector (East side). Economically, all of the citizens from East Germany were getting well educated there and moved to West Berlin for work. In this paper, I will explain the events and circumstances that led to the construction of the Berlin Wall.
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After the World War II in 1945, the Nazi Germany surrendered, the 4 allied countries, the United States, Great Britain, France and Russia signed the “Potsdam Agreement” treaty which determined the borders for Germany and Berlin. The Potsdam Agreement divided Germany and Berlin into four administrative zones. The United States, Great Britain and France combined to control three divisions in the Western half of Germany and Berlin, which eventually united to make a federal republic and made the three divided parts West Germany (Berlin 2002). The Eastern portion of Germany and Berlin were controlled by the Russia/Soviet Republic, later to become communist and made East Berlin the capital of East Germany (Tusa 1997).
After the division, the economics of daily living was more acute in East Germany than in West Germany. Many suffered under repressions of the Communist party because of a communist system. Like the Soviet Union, the economy was struggling to get back on their feet after the war. It was said that East Germany was much like a Mini Moscow (Tusa 1997). The stores were literally empty and what good they did have were not of good quality. There were shortages of housing, food and health care. The economic of daily living in the West was much better. The economy was a lively urban area much like American cities. This is partially because West Germany and West Berlin were able to get from the United States through the Marshall Plan. (Grathwol 1994).
Initially the division between East and West Berlin were uncertain because there was nothing to divide the city. For over ten year after the official separation, East Berlin saw a major emigration of East Germans who were unhappy with the communist system. With nothing to physically separate the East from the West, emigration was from totalitarianism to democracy was as easy as changing classrooms. The Soviet Union went against their promise to the people of East Germany and turned the country to Communist country. This decision separated East Germany even more from the rest of Europe. By the summer of 1952, East Germany was by it self and the border between East and West Germany was closed. Only the border in Berlin was open. (Berlin 2002)
Most of the residents of East Berlin and East Germany did not like the communist regime. In fact, most people were not communists. On June 17, 1953, the people of East Germany became dissatisfied with the economic and political conditions of the German Democratic Republic (GDR). And started a riot and marched through the Brandenburg Gate into West Germany. Their intensions were to be combined with the workers of West Germany. To break up the riot, the Soviet Union called in tanks and troops that shot into the crowd on both sides killing or injuring many of them. Realizing that they were trapped and if they wanted to escape East Germany, they would have to risk their lives. It is estimated that by each day 8,000 to 10,000 people left East Germany to escape further west (Taylor 2007). This damaged the creditability and the workforce of the German Democratic Republic. For most of the emigrants under the age of sixty between 1949 and 1961, the legal process for lawful emigration was lengthy and difficult. This successfully in discouraged the young people from leaving the country. Since the elderly had no big role in the growth of the Communist State, emigration for them was fairly easy. To put an end to emigration, it was proposed to build a high wall. This idea later became The Berlin Wall. Winston Churchill would later name this barrier the Iron Curtain.
The Berlin Wall was built on August 13, 1961. The German Communist leader under the command of Stalin, Walter Ulbricht organized the construction of a large wall to be built in order to restrain illegal emigration from the East to the West (Taylor 2007). On August 13, 1961, the Soviet premier at that time, Nikita Khrushchev, ordered the Berlin wall built to stop the flow of refugees. (Berlin 2002)
In 24 hours, the streets of Berlin were ripped up; barricades of paving stones were erected; tanks were gathered at crucial places and subways and local railway services were interrupted, so that within a day the West of Berlin was completely sealed off from the East (Grathwol 1994). There were many escape tunnels dug under the wall. The tunnel system was dug by hundreds of East Berlin students unexpectedly. The first successful tunnel was in an East Berlin Graveyard and the largest tunnel was found in the basement of a home at number sixty Wernerstrasse. Twenty nine people were freed from this location. That same day citizens of East Berlin and 60,000 commuters were no longer allowed to enter the West side of the city. The GDR claimed that the barricade had been raised to prevent a third world war.
On August 23, 1961, GDR ordered all subways, railroads and telephone lines going into West Berlin to be stopped (Bowman 1998). The citizens of East Berlin were no longer allowed to enter West Berlin, including the sixty-thousand workers who worked in West Berlin. However East Berliners still managed to get out through bribery, cigarettes and money. After some people still managed to scale the wall, there was a ban on the sale of rope and twine.
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On September 20, 1961, to begin construction on the second more permanent concrete wall, the GDR demolished all of the houses near the wall. The Berlin Wall consisted of 67 miles of concrete segment wall which was four meters high, 42 miles of wire mesh fencing, 65 miles of anti-vehicle trenches, 79 miles of signal fence, 302 watchtowers, and 20 bunkers. (Taylor 2007). There behind all of that was a second wall which was called “no man’s land” or “death strip”. It cut off one hundred-ninety two streets (Taylor 2007). This area made it easy to spot footprints because of the raked gravel; was mined and booby-trapped with tripwires and it offered a clear field of fire to the armed guards who were instructed to shoot on sight. The main crossing point for the American sector of West Berlin was at checkpoint Charley which was six hundred-eighty feet west of the Brandenburg Gate. On October 27, 1961, the United States sent tanks; jeeps and soldiers to Checkpoint to guarantee entrance of US officials to West Berlin (Berlin 2002).
The wall divided Berlin through the center and the outer part of the city and on the border between West and East Germany, from the Baltic Sea southward through the center of Germany all the way to Hildburghausen. From there it went east toward the border of Czechoslovakia (Taylor 2007). While the wall was being constructed, the United States was opposed to the establishment of the Wall. President John F. Kennedy was crucial to the cause, declaring his commitment with the infamous words: “As a free man, I take pride in the words “Ich bin ein Berliner (I am a Berliner)” (Taylor 2007). At the verge of a nuclear war, the United States and the Soviet Union reached a conclusion, but the Berlin Wall remained but by the mid 80’s the relationship between the East and West Germany began to transform.
The end of the German Democratic Republic and the Berlin Wall began when Hungary opened its doors to the west. Passage between Communist states was unrestricted; therefore, East Germans could go from East Germany to Hungary and from there to West Germany or any other Western European state. East Germany began to reform. Gunter Schakowsky, the leader of the East Berlin communist party announced on November 9, 1989 that the border to West Berlin would be opened for private trips out of the country. Shortly after his announcement, citizens began hammering and using chisels to knock out pieces of the wall. The Wall had fallen (Taylor 2007).
Between November 10, 1989 and later on December 22, 1989 checkpoints were opened for pedestrians at Potsdamer Platz and the Brandenburg Gate. Finally on July 1, 1990 East and West Germany were united and assumed West Germany’s old name, The Federal Republic of Germany. All restrictions between East Germany and West Germany were released. The entire wall was taken down (Berlin 2002).
In conclusion, the Berlin Wall was erected for political, economical, as a way for the Soviet Union to maintain their communist system and prevent “brain drain” in East German. These tactics did not improve the situation for East German as the people did not like the communist regime and still found ways to escape. While the erection of The Berlin Wall did not prove to be successful for the Soviet Union; the fall of the wall reunited families, friends and a divided nation back together.
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