The birth of the Berlin Wall

November 11, 2014 – 08:38 am

It appeared literally overnight, and kept East Germans imprisoned for more than a quarter of a century.

Exactly 50 years ago, a tiny group of people masterminded a mammoth operation in utmost secrecy, using a vast amount of resources which their country, ravaged by shortages, could not afford. The Berlin Wall was built - or rather, laid out in barbed wire - on August 13, 1961 in the space of just a few hours. Yet it was to stand until 1989, the defining symbol of the Cold War and of Communist might and inflexibility.

At that time my parents were living in Charlottenburg, West Berlin, as my father was completing his National Service in the British Army. He was a linguist and had joined the Intelligence Corps, learning Russian at a hectic military pace (100 words a day, with weekly tests – if they failed any, they were sent back to the Infantry.) Their task was to snoop on the Soviet soldiers who had been drafted to the city in huge numbers. It turned out that the Russians weren’t sure what was going on either, and it came as a complete shock to almost everyone on the Sunday morning when they awoke to find the city had been split into two overnight.

Families were ripped apart and fleeing people mercilessly shot. One of the first to die was the now-famous 18-year-old Peter Fechter, who bled to death as East German officials refused to allow anyone near him. Equally well known is an elderly woman photographed hanging out of an upper window in the East, pulled at from below by West Berlin firemen and from above by East Berlin police. Apparently she made it safely to the West. Hundreds of others were not so lucky.

My father has never forgotten the stories of elderly people who risked their lives to swim across Berlin’s River Spree to escape from East to West, nor the two East German ladies who turned up in the flat next door, successfully reunited with relatives and wildly happy, despite the fact that they had left everything behind – homes, jobs and security. They had their freedom and that was all that mattered. My father had previously been a Communist sympathiser – but not any more.

The Wall stretched 96 miles along the border surrounding West Berlin, dividing it from East Berlin and the rest of East Germany. Initially laid with barbed wire entanglement and later reinforced with concrete blocks, its purpose – to prevent the continued exodus of East Germans into the West via West Berlin – apparently justified even the destruction of a graveyard which happened to lie across the border.

Subsequent generations of the Wall would include the so-called Death Strip, a no-man’s land between two outer walls containing watchtowers, lights, trenches, guards and Alsatian dogs. Its proper name was the “Anti-Fascist Protective Measure”; the official story was that the Wall was built to keep Fascists out of East Germany, not to keep its own citizens in.


Source: www.mercatornet.com


 

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