Our first visit in 1991 was 10 months
after the first demolitions of the infamous Berlin Wall. There were still some
lengths remaining in the centre of the city.Brief Background
Following years of East-West tension after the end
of World War 2 the East German authorities had introduced many measures to stop
the flood of residents from the communist controlled eastern side of Berlin
flocking into the more free and affluent sectors controlled by France, Britain
From about 1951 many streets linking East and West Berlin were
barricaded leaving 81 controlled crossing points. The trains of the East German
railway company no longer passed through West Berlin. Tram and bus traffic
between the two parts was discontinued and even telephone links were reduced.
Still the enormous tide of emigrees continued and by 1961 an
estimated 2.7 million East Germans had escaped to the West. After increased
tension a huge sudden military operation on the 12th August 1961 sealed off
West Berlin in a matter of hours.
In 1963 a wide border zone around West
Berlin was created, subjected to strict controls. Over the next few years the
Wall was strengthened and became more impassable.
As Berlin was totally
inside the German Democratic Republic ( East Germany) the Wall also was
continued right around the Western Sector, so making West Berlin a virtual
island. there were 8 controlled crossing points into East Berlin and 4 direct
into East Germany.
The "Wall" was not just a wall but a whole series of
barriers. The total length was 155 km with 300 watch towers.
For almost 30 years access from the West was by
strictly controlled road and rail routes, or by air. A whole generation of
Berlin youth grew up not knowing their nearby neighbours just over the wall.
Our friends lived 2 miles from the border and knew nothing of what existed in
that direction. In some places the Wall was built along the middle of a street
with apartment buildings on either side facing one another over the impassable
Artistry on the Wall
First attempts at demolition
On the outer side the real graffiti artists have
made the most of the available "canvas". The height of the wall at about 3
metres was a surprise, and the top was smooth and rounded.
Due to the oppressive regime in East Berlin many
people, particularly young ones, wanted to move to the West. They went to the
ultimate extreme to do so and risked their lives on many occasions. The wide
River Spree formed a boundary between the former East and West Berlin near the
famous Reichstag building.
In 28 years, the Wall claimed well over 200
victims, shot by guards, drowned in the waters of the Spree or one of the
lakes, or killed jumping out of their houses.
Altogether, over 5000
East Germans, including 574 border guards, managed to scale the Wall, the first
one being Conrad Schuman who lost no time in jumping over the barbed wire, on
15th August 1961. Most of these escapes in fact took place in the early months
when the border had not yet been completely sealed.
Sixty thousand were
sentenced for attempting to " flee the Republic ". Life imprisonment was the
penalty for providing organized assistance to fugitives.
Escapees used a
variety of methods including cars; heavy lorries; a train; a boat was hi-jacked
by 14 people. In October 1964 57 East Berliners passed under the Wall in a
tunnel dug over a period of 6 months. Over two days 31 women, 23 men and 3
children passed through this narrow tunnel 145 metres long by 70 cms high.
Their escape, the eighth through a tunnel since the Wall was built, ended with
a gun battle in which an East German soldier was killed.
There were actually two
parallel walls separated by a wide cleared area of "no man's land" patrolled by
Border Guards and dogs.
No Man's Land across
the River Spree
No Man's Land
In the outlying suburban
area of Potsdam the wall (between West Berlin and East Germany) was gone but
the chemically cleared strip of "no man's land" was clearly visible. Along the
centre is the access track and floodlights trained on the Eastern boundary.
Many escapees swam to safety across the River Spree
after climbing the wall and crossing the open patrolled area, but others died
in their attempt.
There is a simple Memorial near the Reichstag to those
Memorial near River Spree
Reichstag before its Renovation
The Wall comes down
In the Autumn of 1989 dramatic changes in Eastern
Block countries saw Hungary opening its borders and thousands of GDR
inhabitants left their country. The dramatic swell of public opinion led to
similar changes in Poland and Czechoslovakia.
In East Berlin a
demonstration on 4th November on the Alexanderplatz brought out nearly a
million people, who whistled at the SED representatives and called for basic
freedoms. Four days later, the party leaders resigned en bloc. On November 9th
1989 the GDR unexpectedly opened the crossing points in West Berlin and
thousands of people flocked through.
There were unforgettable scenes of rejoicing,
with shouting, tears, applause, laughter and singing. East Germans were
welcomed with flowers. Rockets went off to the popping of champagne corks and
lighting of candles. The Wall was taken by storm by the crowds singing and
dancing. Coffee and mulled wine were served to police officers on either side.
The Vopos were heckled.
At Checkpoint Charlie, every Trabant sounding
its horn was cheered by the crowd and its occupants congratulated. The
Kurfürstendamm was overrun by a great flood of people and traffic was
In the days that followed, an army of human " woodpeckers "
hammered at the Wall, opening up bigger and bigger holes in it. The cellist
Rostropovich came to play Bach at the foot of the Wall.
formed at the crossing points and in front of banks, where the East Germans
were given DM 100 as a welcome gift (Begrüssungsgeld), in front of shops,
especially the big KaDeWe store, that temple of commerce and luxury.
In just three days, West Berlin took in 2 million East
Reunification Celebrations outside
Official destruction of the Wall began on 13th
Today, the Wall is barely visible, although where it stood
has been marked out in central Berlin over a distance of 20 kilometres with a
red line or a double row of cobblestones. All that remains are a few sections
here and there, kept as memorials.
The people of Berlin were impatient to
see the back of this "painful" structure. But as the German writer Peter
Schneider stated," demolishing the Wall in the head will take longer than it
will take for a demolition firm to do the same job ".
account of the Berlin Wall can be found at
We think we counted 102 cranes
around the panoramic view.
Our next visit was in 1998 and there were very
noticeable changes in the former Eastern sector. The whole central shopping
area was much brighter with many modernised shops.
In the area of Potsdamer Platz there was a vast
redevelopment scheme in progress, and a 3-storey observation tower had been
erected for the public.
I wonder what changes we shall see on our next visit