Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Berlin Wall

photo: wavemagazine.net

The Berlin Wall (German: Berliner Mauer) was erected by the German Democratic Republic (GDR) (East Germany) completely encircling West Berlin, separating it from East Germany, including East Berlin. Construction began on The Berlin Wall early in the morning of Sunday, August 13, 1961. It was a desperate – and effective - move by the GDR (German Democratic Republic) to stop East Berliners escaping from the Soviet-controlled East German state into the West of the city, which was then occupied by the Americans, British and French. The Berlin Wall stretched over a hundred miles. It ran not only through the center of Berlin, but also wrapped around West Berlin, entirely cutting West Berlin off from the rest of East Germany.
Later on even these measures were deemed insufficient and a concrete wall was added in 1965, which served until 1975 when the infamous ‘Stützwandelement UL 12.11’ was constructed. Known also as Grenzmauer 75 (Border Wall ’75), it was the final and most sophisticated version of the Wall. It was made from 45,000 separate sections of reinforced concrete, each 12 feet (3.6 m) high and 4 feet (1.2 m) wide, and topped with a smooth pipe, intended to make it more difficult for escapers to scale it. The Grenzmauer was reinforced by mesh fencing, signal fencing, anti-vehicle trenches, "fakir beds”, barbed wire, over 300 watchtowers, and thirty bunkers. The border cut through 192 streets, 97 of them leading to East Berlin and 95 into the GDR. After its erection, around 5,000 people attempted to escape circumventing the wall, with estimates of the resulting death toll varying between 100 and 200. The last of killed was Chris Gueffroy (February 2,1989). He shot while attempting to escape.
In the year 1989, there were dramatic events such as a massive flight of inhabitants of the GDR via Hungary and big demonstrations in Leipzig on Mondays. After weeks of discussion about a new travel law, the leader of East Berlin's communist party (SED), Günter Schabowski, said on November 9, 1989 at about 7 p.m. in somewhat unclear words that the border would be opened for "private trips abroad". Little later, an onrush of East Berliner's towards West Berlin began, and there were celebration at the the Brandenburg Gate and at the Kurfürstendamm in West Berlin. On November 10, demolition works began with the aim of creating new border crossings. On November 12, a checkpoint at the Potsdamer Platz was opened, and on December 22, a checkpoint for pedestrians was opened at the Brandenburg Gate. So-called "wall woodpeckers" hammered pieces out of the wall, many of which were sold as souvenirs. A few larger segments were officially donated or sold.
On July 1 1990, an economic, monetary and social union between East and West Germany was formed, and all restrictions concerning travels were dropped. The wall had vanished almost completely by 1991; there are a few remainders at the Bernauer Strasse, the Niederkirchnerstrasse (near the building of the former Prussian parliament, now housing the parliament of Berlin) and as the 1.3 km long "East-Side-Gallery" near the railway station "Ostbahnhof".
On August 13 1998, a wall memorial was inaugurated at the Bernauer Strasse (at the corner to the Ackerstrasse, city districts Wedding/Mitte). It consists of a remainder of the Berlin wall with a length of 70 m, provided with slits in the inner wall and steel sheets at the ends.
On November 9 1999, The physical wall disappears. Although only few places remain where parts of the wall and watchtowers can be seen, an invisible wall divides the country in two. The disunity of between the East and the West us even felt in Berlin to this day. The German people must overcome their differences in history, education, upbringing, language, and culture.

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