Following their surrender in World War II, world leaders divided Germany into four pieces to be occupied until the nation could re-enter the world stage. The US, UK, France and USSR all received a segment of the nation to occupy. However, with the nation’s capital, Berlin, firmly in the Soviet section the city was further split four ways to restrict the Soviet influence over the city. Here, in Berlin was where one of the most physical representations of the Cold War would stand. That representation, the Berlin Wall. For many of us, the Berlin Wall’s history is presented as the day it fell on the 9th of November 1989. The wall, however, stood as the constant reminder for German citizens that they were separate. This history of the wall is more than its fall.
In order to cut down on East Berlin residents fleeing the Communist East Germany for West Germany, the Soviet-backed Eastern German government had begun building and inner-German border in the 1950’s. East Germans seeking to flee, however, were able to find loopholes in order to emigrate, mainly through train travel. With the completion of a railway that bypassed the route through West Berlin, however, closing the inner-city border became a realistic option. By the time the East Germans began building the initial wall in the city, 3.5 million people had fled East Germany, 20% of the population.
By the morning of the 13th of August 1961, the border between East and West Berlin was effectively closed. At that moment there was a barbed wire fence dividing the city and four days later on the 17th, the first concrete building blocks were being placed. The East German government claimed the wall was built to cut off aggression from the West, but after the border closed East Berliners were effectively cut off from their Western jobs or even family members who lived on the other side of the wall. By the end of its history, the wall measured 3.6 meters tall and was 27 miles long. There were two separate walls with a space between. There were further nine checkpoints where people could cross if they had the correct documents. For 28 years the wall separated the people of berlin.
For many of us, we picture the Berlin Wall as the artistic masterpiece that it became. This view of the wall, however, is purely Western. While both sides of the wall were heavily guarded, the Eastern side of the wall was so heavily guarded that people who strayed close to the wall were shot. For this, the East side of the Berlin Wall was entirely blank while the West side became a canvas for protest. Much of the graffiti that populated the wall were pieces that were protesting the wall’s existence alone. Imagine this, imagine living in a place were walls divided you and your loved ones. Only then could we begin to understand these three decades in Berlin.
Garrett is an intern at the FHA and an undergraduate History major attending Saginaw Valley State University.
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