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Berlin Wall Essay, Research Paper

With the aim of preventing East Germans

from seeking asylum in the West, the East German government in 1961 began

constructing a system of concrete and barbed-wire barriers between East

and West Berlin. This Berlin Wall endured for nearly thirty years,

a symbol not only of the division of Germany but of the larger conflict

between the Communist and non-Communist worlds. The Wall ceased to

be a barrier when East Germany ended restrictions on emigration in November

1989. The Wall was largely dismantled in the year preceding the reunification

of Germany.

The victorious Allies agreed to give most

of Eastern Germany to Poland and the USSR, and then divide the rest into

four zones of occupation. However, they could not agree of whether

or how to reunite the four zones. “As Cold War tensions grew, stimulated

in part by the German situation itself, the temporary dividing line between

the Soviet zone in the East and the British, French, and U.S. zones in

the West hardened into a permanent boundary. In 1949, shortly after

the Western powers permitted their zones to unite and restore parliamentary

democracy in the Federal Republic of Germany, the Russians installed a

puppet regime of German Communists in the East, creating the German Democratic

Re-public.”(Niewyk, 1995) According to Galante (1965, p.vii) “a city

is the people who live in it. Berlin is 3,350,000 people in twenty

boroughs. A rich city of factories, an airy city of farms and parks

and woods and lakes?On Sunday, August 13, 1961 Herr Walter Ulbricht stopped

that. He built the Wall.”

One reason for the building of the Wall

was due to the more than fifty-two thousand East Berliners who crossed

the border everyday to work in West Berlin. These people were referred

to as the “grenzgaenger or border crossers.” “East Berliners said

the grenzgaenger were parasite who should stay and work on the East side

of the boundary, for the benefit of Communism and the prosperity of the

German Democratic Republic.”(Galante, p.3) Gelb (1986, p.3) states,

“Berlin was where the Cold War began with a Soviet blockade, where Soviet

and American tanks faced each other virtually snout-to-snout for the first

time, and where the grisly game of nuclear brinkmanship was introduced.”

The Wall was constructed of concrete and

steel and barbed wire. It was 28 miles long, if straightened it would

measure 103 miles long, dividing on of the greatest cities in the world.

On side was painted white and one side was covered with graffiti.

“But there is more to the Wall than just this wall. Behind it, one

hundred yards deeper into Communist territory, is another concrete barrier

almost as formidable. The leveled area between the two is a desolate,

dangerous no-man’s-land, patrolled by kalashnikov-toting guards, dotted

with free-fire machine-gun emplacements, and sown in places with landmines.

It is punctuated with 285 elevated watchtowers, more suited to prison camps

than city centers, and by a series of dog runs where ferocious, long leashed

Alsatians effectively run free. It is not a safe place to be.”(Gelb,

p.4) Approximately 5000 people managed to escape to the West, 80

died trying. There is no known record of anyone trying to escape

in the other direction. “The poor quality and construction is a result

both of the speed with which the first sections were erected and the fact

that no foundation was prepared.”(Galante, p.8) On August 13, 1961,

East German troops began stretching coils of barbed wire across the border

checkpoints between East and West Berlin, inhibiting free transit between

the two sectors as guaranteed under the Four-Power Pact that governed the

city. Within days the wire was replaced by 28 miles of compressed

rubble, “and now the historic Berlin Wall became a hideous symbol of the

economic and political schism in Germany.”(Cate, preface)

For 28 years the Berlin Wall kept people

in, and kept people out. It separated friend and family. It

divided a nation, a continent, a world. The story of seventeen-year-old

Ursula Heinemann who “still had not recovered from the shock of being separated

from her mother. Although she was certain that she had done the right

thing in escaping to the West, she was nagged by a sense of guilt.”(Cate,(1978),

p.3) Many people saw the Wall as “grim and forbidding, the Wall snakes

the city of Berlin like the backdrop to a nightmare.”(Gelb, p.3)

After the Wall came down, East German teachers had to plan new curricula

more in line with the schools in the West. “For now, the opportunities

were less notable than the problems. Thousands of East German emigrants

were already sleeping in West German army barracks, nursing homes, high-school

gymnasiums, and even converted cargo containers.”(Anderson,(1989), p.33)

The first cracks came in May, when the

Hungarian government opened its border with Austria. East German

officials were furious because this meant that East German refugees now

had a new route to freedom. Up to 2 million of East Germany’s 16.5

million were ready to flee if the chance was offered. As reform spread

across Eastern Europe, the Stalinist regime of Erich Honecker refused to

budge. In January, Honecker said the Wall would stand for a hundred

years. When Soviet leader Gorbachev visited East Berlin he tried

to convince Honecker to accept liberalization, Honecker still stood strong

to his beliefs. Demonstrations erupted throughout Germany, with thousands

taking to the streets demanding a share of Gorbachev’s restructuring, and

the right to travel. Violent police attacks on demonstrators only

fueled the people’s anger and brought hundreds of thousands more into the

streets. Czechoslovakia opened its border for East Germans traveling

to the West, and 30,000 refugees emigrated in 48 hours. On November

7, the entire East German cabinet resigned, on the 8th, the Communist Party

Politburo and Central Committee resigned. And on the 9th the Wall

came down at the stoke of midnight. When the news of the Wall reached

the West German parliament, “the legislators spontaneously burst into patriotic

song.”(Bornstein,(1990),p.23) “Exhausted by weeks of political stress

in which decades-old policies were reversed daily, overwhelmed by the mobs

demanding immediate exit, and noticing Western television crews waiting

on the other side, the commanding officers gave way to the masses and opened

all the gates.”(Borneman,(1991), p.2)

“Economic union has powerful implications

both inside and outside Germany. Rebuilding the East German derelict

economy will tie up perhaps $650 billion West German capitol, raising interest

rates and very possibly fueling inflation throughout European Community.”(Garrard,(1990),

p.23) On Sunday, 18 March 1990, East Germans held the first free

election on their territory since 1933-”the first fully free election in

Eastern Europe since the Second World War.”(Borneman, p.229)

The wall opened because its reason

for existence had disappeared. The East German regime erected it

in 1961 to stem the flow of refugees to the West. In a paradox of

history, the same government was forced to open the Wall in a desperate,

last-ditch effort to stop an even more massive wave of deflections in 1989.


Borneman, John (1991). After

the Wall. U.S.: Basic Books, Inc.

Cate, Curtis (1978). The

Ides of August. New York: M. Evans & Company, Inc.

Galante, Pierre (1965). The

Berlin Wall. New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc.

Gelb, Norman (1986). The

Berlin Wall. New York: Times Books.

Bornstein, Jerry (1990).

The Wall Came Tumbling Down.

New York: Outlet Book

Company, Inc.

Heaps, W.A. (1964). The Wall

of Shame. New York: Meredith Press.

Niewyk, D.L. (1995). Groliers

Multimedia Encyclopedia.

Garrard, Margaret (1989).

Facing Up to the German Question Newsweek, pp. 51-52

Anderson, Harry (1989). A

Mixed Blessing for Bonn Newsweek, pp. 33-34

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