Why was the Berlin Wall built
What was the Berlin Wall? And why was the Berlin Wall built? Answering these questions is not so simple as it looks. If you would ask a patriotic communist East German what the Berlin Wall was, he would say: “It’s the anti-fascist wall, protecting the people of East Germany against the fascists that live in West Germany.” If you would ask the very same question in West Germany most people would say: “It’s a brutal wall that divides our country, put up by scary communists that are afraid that everybody would flee their country.”
Berlin Wall: separating friends and family
The Berlin Wall ran not only straight through the city but also through many people their lives. It separated friends and family and made life a lot more tragic and complicated.
Anti faschistischer Schutzwall
Of course it’s propaganda to state that the Berlin Wall was a ‘antifaschistischer schutzwall’ (antifascist wall). But this was what the GDR government told its people and how a lot of patriotic East Germans felt about the Berlin Wall. They believed West Germany was still full of Nazi’s and that war criminals were still roaming the country. In fact this was not entirely untrue. In West Germany a significant number of former Nazi’s held very good jobs, even in politics. In East Germany this was far more difficult. East Germany put a lot of effort in sweeping the country clean of Nazi-elements.
On the other hand East Germany, according to West Germany, was full of communists. They suppressed their own people by putting up a wall. Many who tried to flee were shot. In the eyes of many West Germans East Germans led depressing lives, lived in depressing houses and wore depressing clothes.
In other words: the Berlin Wall was more than concrete, watchtowers, vicious border policemen, watchdogs, barbed wire and graffiti. It not only divided the city of Berlin, but also stressed to what part of the country you belonged and what you believed in.
Of course, life and the Berlin Wall is more complicating than that. Not everyone on the East side was a patriotic communist and not everyone on the West side a war criminal. Many people in Berlin had nothing to do with politics and propaganda from East of West Germany, but nevertheless were confronted every day with the reality of the Berlin Wall.
Why was the Berlin Wall built? Myths and truth
Several surveys show that a lot of people think the Berlin Wall was erected to punish the Germans for the Second World War. That is of course, not true. At the end of the Second World War there was an important battle in Berlin. After Adolf Hitler had committed suicide in front of his Fuhrerbunker in Mitte the Russians took over control of Berlin. The allied forces came in soon after. They all wanted to control the city from which Germany was ruled. They decided to divide it into four sectors. The British got a piece of West Berlin, as well as the French and the United States. The Russians got what was later called East Berlin.
Dividing up the city did not proof to be that difficult, that West Berlin was a free haven and East Berlin wasn’t was however a very big problem. The land surrounding Berlin all belonged to the Russians and East Germany. It was very easy to cross the East-West border in Berlin. The rest of the border was sealed by the Iron Curtain.
Therefore, before 1961 a lot of East Germans fled their country through West Berlin. According to the GDR government this brain drain could only be stopped by creating a new border that was impossible to cross. The GDR government wanted people to stay in East Berlin to build up East Germany and make the communist state work.
Hot Summer at the Berlin Wall
In the summer of 1961 GDR leader Walter Ulbricht went to the Soviet Union to discuss the matter with the Russian leader Khrushchev and the other Warsaw pact leaders. In a speech on the 4th of August, 1961 he already talked about sealing of the border. The translation of this speech got destroyed, so no one in West Germany or the rest of the allied world had any idea of what was about to happen. They had an inkling of an upcoming crisis because there were so many GDR-refugees (a thousand a day just before border closure). But they thought it was impossible to seal off a great city in a hermetic fashion.
But in the mean time, the later GDR leader Erich Honecker was a busy bee. On orders of Walter Ulbricht he was on the telephone all day to manage the situation. 400 trucks had to be moved to get all the barbed wire and other material ready to close of the Berlin border, without being noticed by the West. Operation ‘Rose’ was operating at full speed. On the 12th of August 3150 soldiers of the 8th Motorized Artillery Division went to Berlin. They installed their 100 battle tanks and personnel at Friedrichsfelde, just outside Mitte – the historic center of East Berlin. 4200 men of the 1st Motorized Division and 140 tanks left Potsdam to cover the area of the outer ring around West Berlin. 10.000 men of all units of the East Berlin People’s Police were also waiting for orders. They were ready to seal of all the pedestrian and vehicle routes to West Berlin. When Berlin was asleep, all this happened in total secrecy. At dawn on the 13th of August, 1961 all the borders were closed off and Honecker went home. Tired, but satisfied. East Berlin was sealed off.
Berlin Wall: a new reality
People in East Berlin woke up to a new reality. They couldn’t get out anymore. Some tried to find the last stretch that was unsealed and succeeded, but most people could do nothing else than accept that the border had become reality. The people in West Berlin were furious. Angry mobs gathered at Brandenburger Tor. At Potsdamer Platz West Berliners swore at the border police and threw stones at them. West Berlin police pulled them back. Their motto was: no provocations in this new, unstable situation.
The allied forces in the United States, France and Great Britain discussed how to interpret this border closure. Would East Germany and the USSR risk a third world war by annexing West Berlin? France, England and the United States were not ready to fight with the USSR over East Berlin. The French Defense Minister Pierre Mesmer told his English colleague weeks later that the French were not prepared to ‘die for Berlin’. It soon became clear that the GDR put up the Berlin Wall only out of defensive strategies. They didn’t mean to annex West Berlin.
The closure of the border at Berlin made the inhabitants furious. But politicians easily settled the matter. After years of tension in Berlin because of the many East German refugees the erection of the Berlin Wall replaced an unstable political situation with a brutal new reality but also stability.
When 28 years later the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 the Berliners were so happy they finally got rid of this hated piece of concrete, it is really hard to find where the Wall that effected all these lives for such a long time. “Is this East? Or is this West?” people ask all the time when they visit Berlin.
If you know where to look, you will know the answer. www.placetobe.info will show you all these stories and remains of the Berlin Wall.
Because in 1989 all Berliners were very happy to see this hated piece of concrete gone, it is not easy to find the Berlin Wall in the city. But we know the unknown spots, like Invalidenfriedhof where people fleed the Berlin Wall by running over the military graveyard. We know where to find the watchtowers and where people dug tunnels under the Berlin Wall. But also where the most beautiful pieces are, like East Side Gallery and the Mauerpark.
The Brandenburger Tor at the end of Unter den Linden became the symbol of reunited Germany and Berlin after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Between 1961-1989 the Berlin Wall surrounded the Brandenburger Tor, as you can still see at graffiti on East Side Gallery in Friedrichshain. East Berlin was on one side – a couple of meters further was West Berlin.
The Berlin Wall at Invalidenfriedhof makes this cemetery a very tragic and spectacular place to be. The Berlin Wall ran straight through Invalidenfriedhof. Battles of life and death took place at this military cemetery. This makes the Invalidenfriedhof one of the most remarkable places in Berlin and place to be nr 1 in Mitte for Wall spotting.
The Berlin Wall at Bernauer Strasse had a huge impact on this area. Bernauer Strasse was right in the middle of the border. When the Berlin Wall was erected in 1961, the entrance of a few buildings was in the East. But if the inhabitants looked out of their windows, they saw West Berlin right beneath them.
The Berlin Wall was a hated piece of concrete in both West and East Berlin. It divided the city and created a large, ugly grey scar. In 1989 118 artists from 21 different countries painted this part of the Berlin Wall that was never touched by art before, because it lies so close to the river Spree. East Side Gallery is the largest part of remaining Berlin Wall.
The Mauerpark was a large piece of Noman’s land between Prenzlauer Berg and Wedding. The Berlin Wall ran straight through the park. Nowadays the park buzzes with life and creativity. At Sunday you can find vintage stuff at the fleemarket, or just chill and enjoy the weird performances at the Mauerpark.
At Kieler Strasse, near the Invalidenfriedhof, you can find one of the most interesting watchtowers of the Berlin Wall. Not only because it is one of the few remaining watchtowers. But mostly, because it is a small museum for the first victim of the Berlin Wall: Gunter Litfin. His brother Jurgen runs the watchtower and museum.
Gropius Bau is a stunning museum with international art. But it is market by two wars. The facade has bullet holes from World War Two. And the museum was useless during the Cold War. The Berlin Wall ran straight through this area, making it noman’s land. Nowadays you can still spot the Berlin Wall near Gropius Bau.
The Berlin Wall was one of the most guarded pieces of concrete. Every piece of Berlin Wall had it’s own watchtower, where the guards or border policemen could sit to watch the environment for people who wanted to flee to West Berlin. After the Berlin Wall fell, nearly all the watchtowers were removed. But the one near Treptower Park still stands strong.
Potsdamer Platz used to be a buzzing square with lots of traffic before World War Two. But after the War it became a large stretch of noman’s land when the Berlin Wall was erected here. Now it’s Berlin’s pride and joy with modern architecture. And you can still find pieces of the Berlin Wall here.
When the Berlin Wall was erected in 1961, some people desperately wanted to leave East Berlin. They dug tunnels, created passport schemes, escaped through a stinking sewer, drifted over to the other side in a hot air balloon, hid in a car or simply drove through the Berlin Wall. Read about all the escapes at the Berlin Wall.
Sometimes the Berlin Wall is nothing more than a simple glittering brick on the ground to show where the Berlin Wall used to be. But before 1989 the Berlin Wall was a brutal reality, not everybody wanted to experience every day. Some wanted to leave, and dug tunnels or climbed the Berlin Wall. Some people weren’t so lucky. They died, escaping to the other side.