The Berlin Wall Essay, Research Paper
Today people belong to the CNN generation. Any time an event happens in
the world today people turn to CNN. In recent years, the Gulf War, and the events
in Bosnia have been headliners. In 1989, one event monopolized the airways of
CNN, THE FALL OF THE BERLIN WALL. I remember seeing this, and thinking
how little I knew about this event. The fall of the Berlin Wall succeeded in one
aspect that today is still not been rectified; The Berlin Wall divided Berlin into two
very distinctively different cities. These cities both developed differently. Even
after the wall was destroyed eight years ago the city still remained divided, and is
still divided today. Following World War II, the allies had begun this split that was
greatly expanded following the building of the wall. The split of the city was
wanted greatly by the Soviets, but not the other allies.
When I joined the army being stationed in Germany didn?t really appeal to
me. I wanted to stay stateside, with little travel, Going on a one to two year
hardship overseas tour did not appeal to me. But after 1989, I put in request to be
sent to Germany. I arrived in January 1990 three months after the wall collapsed.
When I visited the wall five questions about the wall and German society
surfaced; First what was the background of the wall why was it created, second
how and when was the wall constructed, and of what material, third what were the
measurements of the wall, Berlin is a huge city, fourth the aspects around the fall of
the wall, and the actual fall , and fifth after riding the Berlin sub-way, how did these
tunnels affect the travel within the city, and the differing cultures of the two differing
cities of East and West Berlin . In this examination I will finally answer these
questions that I asked my self seven years ago. These questions all center around
the aspect of Berlin becoming Two cities following World War II.
Berlin, eight years after the fall of the illustrious wall is now busy rebuilding
and redefining itself. Since my initial visit I have returned to see friends every other
year. The city is no longer restricted by its cold war status as the symbolic dividing
line between East and West. Berlin is the new political, cultural, and architectural
capital of Germany and is quickly becoming one of the key business centers in all of
Europe. Before Hitler came to power and lost World War II, Berlin had enjoyed
this status. The German government hopes today to groom Berlin as a possible
capital of the new European Union. They are grooming there economy, and the city
to be the focal point.
After World War II Berlin, was badly damaged during the war, unlike World
War I. The Soviet Union wanted to bring the war to German soil. The Soviets
harbored many hard feelings toward the German people. The city was surrounded
by the German Democratic Republic/East Germany, and was partitioned into East
Berlin and West Berlin. The city was in the Soviet sector of the post-war division.
But the capital too was divided among the victorious allies, to keep the capital with
The divided city not only symbolized the collapse of the German Empire, of
which it was the capital, but also became a focus of cold-war tensions
between the Communist nations led by the Union of Soviet Socialist
Republics and the group of Western nations led by the United States. The
Berlin wall, a wall separating East and West Berlin was built by the East
Germans in 1961, blocked free access in both directions until 1989; by the
time Germany was unified in October 1990, much of the wall had been torn
Because of dissatisfaction with the economic and political conditions, an increasing
number of people left East Germany (German Democratic Republic). from? January to the
beginning of August 1961, about 160,000 refugees were counted?(2) Also, the international
political situation was tense. On Nov. 27, 1958 the Soviets delivered their Berlin ultimatum,
demanding that the western allies should withdraw their troops from West Berlin and that West
Berlin should become a free city within six months. They believed without allied support West
Berlin would also fall under their control. On Feb. 2 1959, the threat of settling a separate
peace treaty between the USSR the German Democratic Republic (GDR) followed.
The meeting between US President Kennedy and the Prime Minister of the USSR,
Kruschev, on June 3&4 1961 ended without any noticeable results.
The East German government had one goal at this time; preventing people
from leaving the GDR. At an international press conference on June 15 1961,
Walter Ulbricht The leader of the East German communist party, SED, and
President of the Privy Council. Answered to the question of a journalist.
I understand your question as follows: there are people in West Germany
who want us to mobilize the construction workers of the GDR to build a wall.
I am not aware of any such plans… No one has the intention of constructing a
This statement could be seen as the truth or in the aspect that he knew nothing about
the plans of the wall. It was seen that the Soviets unlike the other allies did not plan
to give up their influence in the city. The Berlin airlift of 1947-49 is a great example
of the Soviet aspirations to continue to control their sector even after they were
supposed to leave During the Berlin Air lift The Soviets cut off supply routes to the
city. the only way supplies could be brought into the city was to fly over and drop
them. The allies from Frankfurt began the almost three year effort to supply West
Berliners with supplies. The succeeded and the Soviets ultimately gave in. They
did however create stricter guidelines on entering the city to include the developing
of the infamous ?:Checkpoint Charlie,? the last checkpoint on the autobahn before
entering East Berlin.
CONSTRUCTION OF THE WALL
The construction of the wall according to the Soviet Government was not a
planned event. The following description is given to show that no plans were
pre-done before they started.
?Early in the morning of Sunday August 13, 1961, the GDR began under the
leadership of Erich Honecker to block off East Berlin and the GDR from
West Berlin by means of barbed wire and antitank obstacles. Streets were
torn up, and barricades of paving stones were erected. Tanks gathered at
crucial places. The subway and local railway services between East and
West Berlin were interrupted. Inhabitants of East Berlin and the GDR were
no longer allowed to enter West Berlin, In the following days construction
brigades began replacing the provisional barriers with a solid wall.(4)
The western allies showed little reaction, they showed more reaction during
the blockade of 1947 to 1949, The allies participated in a massive airlift in which
French, US, and British planes were dropping 8,000 tons of food and fuel into the
city daily which forced the soviets to give up their blockade.
When East German troops began their construction of the twenty-five foot
wall made of concrete and barbed wire, they were laying the foundation for the
West Berlin?s mayor Willie Brandt?s policy of Ostopolitik allowed West
Germans to visit their families in the East; however East Germans could not
go to the West unless they escaped, and many died trying.(5)
After August 23, 1961, citizens of West Berlin were no longer allowed to enter East
Berlin. On September 20, 1962, Peter Fechter, an Eighteen year old citizen of East
Berlin Bled to death after he was shot down by East Berlin border patron in an
attempt to escape over the wall, becoming the first of many to die attempting to
escape to the west.
On June 21, 1963, the minister of Nation Defense of the GDR gave orders
concerning installation of a border area at the frontier between the GDR and West
Berlin. Afterwards inhabitants of East Berlin living within a distance of one
hundred meters had to register. These citizens were living in a danger zone. Their
houses were with-in view of the West side of the city. When I was there this
housing issue was quite visible. These people could see the capitalist West, while
remaining to live in the communist East.
When construction of the wall was complete the western leaders declared it
an ?Anti-fascist protection wall.? Unlike the Berlin air-lift the western leaders could
not drop food, and goods into the east. The city of Berlin was now a divided city,
one side as a capitalist democracy, and the other a communist state. But inside the
cities they were more differences than politics, Economics, sociology, and total
lifestyles of the citizens were becoming a major difference.
MEASUREMENTS OF THE WALL
The border between West Berlin and East Berlin and the GDR had a total
length of 166 km, and there was a deeply staggered system of barriers. There
was the physical wall with a length of 107 km.(4)
The simple vastness of the city of Berlin proved that they could not build a wall to
close in the entire city.
The area around the concrete wall looked like; First, there was the wall which
was made up of concrete segments with a height of nearly twenty feet, usually
with a concrete tube on top. Behind it on the Eastern side there was an
illuminated control area, called the death area. Refugees attempting escape
that got over the wall were shot in this area thus the name as the death area.
Following this area was a trench that would prevent vehicles from breaking
through. Then there was a patron track, a corridor with watchdogs, watch
towers and bunkers, and a second wall.(4)
My impression of this area at first was that it would have been simple to just jump
off an apartment building with a glider and sail across. I than observed the area of
the wall still standing with years and numbers underneath. I later found out that
these numbers stood for the number of people killed in that given year for
attempting to escape. People did escape but according to my guide many more than
the numbers on the wall were killed in attempting . Escape was a dream, but once a
citizen escaped he had to have a major plan, The West German embassy could not
deal with all the escapee?s. Other nations wanted to help, but they did not want to
insult the East German government. So when a person escaped they were treated
difficulty, and most often needed family and money to stay out.
The border in the city cut through 192 streets, 97 leading in to East Berlin and
95 leading into the GDR. This whole area was the city section of the
barricade/wall, but the wall extended 59 km without a physical wall.
When the wall first went up the Country section was just about the ?leakiest?
part it, and many escapees made it to the west through fields and woods, and
even through people?s gardens and summer houses. But slowly and surely,
over time, all the places where escape was possible were plugged up. Any
building close to the border was demolished.(1)
Things in the country section were far more complex than in the city section of the
wall. The country section was constantly guarded as was the city section. But in
the country planes, tanks, dogs, and roving mass patrols were used. In the city
section there were massive towers approximately every two-hundred meters. these
towers housed armed guards, armed with automatic rifles, grenade throwers, and
they too had a roving patrol with dogs. To even think about escape would be crazy
but the concept of freedom led man to actually escape.
There were three motorways running out from West Berlin to West
Germany, and the Railway had to go through as well, and there was also a
canal system for the transport of heavy supplies like coal.(5)
The vastness of the city meant that goods and services had to come in from the
outside, they utilized the motorways, Railway and the canal system, these areas
were more heavily guarded than others.
Simply escaping in the country section was more than merely walking around
the wall, this due to the fact that the wall was deep in the middle of East Germany,
and the fact that it was barely fifty kilometers from the Polish border. To escape
Berlin a refugee than needed to take the long journey somewhere. The nearest
border was Poland, at the time another communist country. Escaping in the city a
person entered West Berlin, In West Berlin they were in a free state, with
embassy?s and possible family ties that could assist them in getting into West
Germany. They still did need someone to assist them financially, and socially by
giving them a place to stay.
THE FALL OF THE WALL
During the period of the divided city between East and West Berlin, West
Berlin enjoyed great economic growth, while East Berlin remained in a state of little
growth. West Berlin received aid from its democratic friends along with West
Germany, which was becoming an economic power. East Germany relied on its
communist patriarch. The Soviet Union due to harsh feelings following the treaties
after World War I, used there occupation following World War II to fuel the hearts
of their people of past hardships that the German culture had given there nationality.
By making them feel inferior.
Once in Berlin, the west side was like many other thriving western cities. In
fact, thriving a good deal more than most, due to heavy support and subsidy
by the Federal government, to keep this outpost of the West in a healthy
condition. It seems odd, now, that such a strange situation, West Berlin
being ?walled-in, could be taken for so many years as normality. But so it
was. To us then, that wall was permanent, and the chances of it ever coming
down laughably small.(4)
This existence of two separate cities both with differing economic status, and the
political culture of Europe at the time are often seen as reasons for the fall of the
Berlin wall. But the fall was due to bigger reasons. The people of the differing
Berlin?s, were in some instances family, The years of the separation were leading to
an uprising. The new generation of Berliner?s had never known the city as one.
President Kennedy upon visiting Kennedy made his famous statement Eich Bein Ein
Berliner. This translates that he like the citizens of Berlin was also a citizen of
Berlin. This statement when given through original translation stated that Kennedy
was Berlin. This according to my guide on my original tour of Berlin. The
statement was corrected for its press release however.
When Gorbachev?s perestroika swept through the Soviet Union and Eastern
Europe, the storm of reform did not skip over Berlin. East Germans watched the
border between Hungary and Austria come down and began leaving at the rate of
200 people a night. The citizens of East Berlin were becoming agitated, the
government was in no position to resist them and in November 1989 the wall came
down. People all over the world witnessed this on CNN, People from all over
wanted to be involved in this historical occasion. The wall had served as a symbol
for a generation in Germany, that had been split. On the world scope people wanted
to have an impact on this major culture event that changed Europe. When the wall
was finally penetrated people stopped in silence to remember those who had died in
attempting to escape to the West. In February 1989 the last killed refugee was
Chris Gueffroy, He nearly made it across but was caught in barbed wire while
crawling across, he was shot while entangled in the wire. He like many others
suffered the fate of death in attempting to reach something he had never attained
freedom. Only nine months later the sweeping reforms were to open the wall again.
If he had only known. If any of the people who died had only known that it was not
as permanent as believed. The cultural generation of this divided city for a
generation would ultimately create hopefully the new capital of the coming
European Union, to citizens of East Berlin before the fall would never be a reality,
but in West Berlin, the citizens always hoped the city would again be united to its
pre wall greatness.
Even though the wall was gone, the city and the country remained divided.
An entire generation of Germans grew up knowing two separate Germanys. Many
Germans when I was there still saw these East Berliners, as second class citizens.
They still did not view them as Germans. They saw them as they saw Austrians,
A West German student at Berlin?s free University said of the East Berliners.
she still can?t shake the idea that East Germany is part of Germany. It is like
Austria; they speak German, but they are another country, they have their
own struggles and we have ours.(7)
These sentiments even in my last visit in 1995 were still prevalent, people are glad
the wall is down, but they still often refer to East German?s and West German?s as
if they are from differing nations. The different city?s through the wall era
developed different cultures, and economies. Many citizens of the West Berlin
background do not believe it is their responsibility to bring East Berlin into the
Twentieth century. When a person enters East Berlin they can observe vast
differences. But these differences are changing East Berlin is today the construction
Mecca of Europe.
While the west was building West Berlin into a monument to capitalism, East
Berlin became a very cosmopolitan and modern city, by communist standards.
However a striking contrast in the two cities? living standards remained. West
Berliners had access to a vast array of goods from all over the world, while the East
Berlin shopping district, Alexanderplatz, comprised of dingy shops selling a poor
selection of low quality goods. could only sell goods created in East Germany, or
other communist nations.
Mercedes and BMWs were common in West Berlin, while Trabis, the East
German-built, three-cylinder car that easterners waited up to ten years to get
crowded Berlin streets. These cars were made of fibers, when the masses left after
the wall collapsed the streets were flooded with abandoned Trabis. The government
began to burn these. Or sell them cheaply. When I was stationed in Germany I
bought one of these for fifty dollars. It had a two stroke engine in which I had to
mix my gas with oil, like a chain-saw. The car ran good, and was a parking dream.
It could only reach seventy-five Kilometers an hour, which was slow on the
Autobahn, but it got me around without having to rely on the public transportation
system, that I had trouble understanding.
THE U-BAHN AND GERMAN SOCIETY SINCE THE FALL
When I took a ride on the Berlin U-Bahn I was shocked when I entered the
Eastern side and saw that there stations were not like the streets. These stations
were decorated lavishly, they made the stations in the Western side look bad. In the
Mohrenstrasse station I observed lavish red marble pillars and walls. I found myself
wondering how a devastated economy could afford such extravagances. These
were the most lavish sub-way stations I had ever seen. Where did these elaborate
decorations come from?
they didn?t pay for the marble they looted it from Hitler?s demolished
chancellery, just across the road. Everything else of expense in East Berlin
in these first few years was from Hitler,(7).
These stations were newly opened, even in 1990 on the walls they had posters from
the late 1950?s. The posters I observed were of Berlin decadence, they were of the
Berlin city opera, and cultural events that during the wall era people in East Berlin
never had a chance to experience. The entire generation never knew of the cities
Berlin when the wall was built did have an underground railway system. the
railway system was begun to be built in 1896, These lines before the wall. did go
to East and West Berlin freely. After the wall they only had to split one line and
close part of its length. Some of the Eastern lines that went north and south did
cross under underneath West Berlin. In these areas the stations were closed and
concrete collars were set in the roof and sides of the tunnel. The trains due to this
could just fit through the tunnel with little room on top or either side. Escape in the
tunnels would be impossible a person attempting to stand by the wall in a tunnel
would be ultimately crushed.
Where there were abandoned stations, they put up armed guards. And on
station platforms on the East side there were constantly strolling armed guards.
These guards were not like guards along the wall. They were armed, and had dogs,
many were Soviet soldiers who had no second thought to shoot first and ask
questions later. .
Since the fall of the wall Berlin has taken its place among other German cities
Frankfurt is the financial capital, Dusseldorf is the media capital, Hamburg is
the high-tech capital, and Berlin stands as the cultural capital once again.(7)
This fact tells that Berlin is back as a center of German society. The capital of all of
German has been moved from Bonn, back to Berlin. The Berlin skyline is a vast
expansion of new skyscrapers and new buildings. The German government hopes
the resurgence of Berlin will put them back on top as a world leader. They also
hope that by rebuilding their economy and show city they will have a great say in
where the capital of the new European Union will be. Germany is one nation
hoping to be the capital of the new union.
The Berlin Wall succeeded in creating two different cities, that lasted a
generation. Berlin lies in the northwest of Germany, It is divided by the Spree
River. It is 174 miles from Hamburg, and 318 miles from Frankfurt, and 243 miles
from Nuremberg. The city was isolated by distance before the wall and today
Berlin has a population of 3.5 million people. Access to the city can be by
three ways; Air, Train, and by road. Berlin has three airports, Tegel International is
the largest. The rail way has two main stations the Bahnof Zoo (station) and the
Hauptbahnof from the south. By road the autobahn has four routes into Berlin, these
roads still aren?t in good shape.
Berlin is an isolated city within German society. The simple distance from
other major cities attributes to its differing society. East Berlin, and West Berlin,
both developed differently. The two cities, were two cities. The Wall only added to
this division. The Wall was not the sole reason for this split. The allies when they
divided up this once great capital contributed more.
The Soviets in wanting to control their sector for a longer period, contributed
the most to the division of the city of Berlin. The Wall only gave there intentions, a
physical structure to serve as a symbol. In November 1989, this symbol was
destroyed. The government, did do one intelligent thing upon tearing down the wall
they sold many parts as souvenirs.
East & West Berlin, became two very different cities during the Wall
Generation. Now the German government with the coming European Union hope
their once great capital will become the capital again. East Berliners today have
created a slogan, they put on bumper stickers and billboards. ?Give West Berliners
A Chance!? This is a gesture that all of Germany should adhere to.
ENDNOTES (1). Pinckney D. After the Wall was Over. Times Litery Supplement, Feb. 24 1995 p10(3)
(2) Judt T Nineteen Eighty-nine: The End of Which European Era?. Berlin Ed Diddles
1994 V 123 n 3
(3) Hankiss E European Paradigms: East and West, 1945-1994. Berlin Deadalus V 123 n
3 p. 166
(4) Schlegel N. Berlin Rebuilds and Redefines. Europe May 1995 n 3 p. 31 (6) Cover
(5) Isaac J. the Meaning of 1989. Central and Eastern Europe: Gains and Losses in the
Transition to Democracy, Social Research, V. 63 n 2 pg. 127
(6) Yosefa L Inverting Images of the 40?s The Berlin Wall and Collective Amnesia.
Journal of Communication V. 45 Spring 95 pg. 101
(7) Shpakov Y How the Berlin Wall Collapsed. Moscow News, Nov. II 1994 n 45 pg. 1