The Berlin Wall

The Berlin Wall

The Berlin Wall, built in August of 1961,
was a physical symbol of the political and emotional divisions of Germany.

The Wall was built because of a long lasting
suspicion among the Soviet Union on one side and Western Europe and the

United States on the other. Once World War II was over, these Allies no
longer had a common purpose to hold them together. Their differences became
less hidden and more irreconcilable. The Western Allies quickly realized
they couldn't "kick a dog when its already down", and that Germany was
in desperate need of help." Therefore, the Allies' aim was to rebuild Germany's
economy. The Soviet Union disagreed with this plan immensely, and instead
they became busy with setting up Communist dictatorships in their conquered
areas, such as the zone of East Germany. This major difference among these
powers marked the beginning of the Cold War. The war was not of physical
battle, but of international diplomacy. Germany now became the prize struggle
between enemies.

In response to the numbers of people who
fled the communist world to the free world, East Germany built a wall that
cut across the heart of Berlin. It was an improvised structure, thrown
up overnight. In the months and years to follow, it would harden into a
massive barrier of concrete blocks, barbed wire, machine gun towers, and
minefields. The Wall became 103 miles long, and it was approximately ten
to thirteen feet high. It cut across 193 roads, and it sealed West Berlin
not only from the rest of the city to the east, but from all of East Germany.

"A second wall was eventually built 100 miles to the east of the original
wall. 293 watchtowers, 66 miles of antivechicle trenches, hundreds of killer
guard dogs, countless searchlights, alarms, and self-firing guns were all
used to keep East Germans form leaving." (Mirabile 7)

In the night of August 12, Walter Ulbricht
of East Germany, had his troops unroll their barbed wire "to protect the
frontier...from American spies and the criminal slave traders of West Germany."
(Galante 1) On the morning of the 13th, Berliners awoke to discover telephones
line dead between West and East Berlin and train services at a standstill.

Families were separated, for the Wall had run through parks, public areas,
and even buildings.

The Wall did not hold them back from freedom.

According to reports, official figures show that more than 400 people died
trying to flee. Human-rights activists say that the true figure could be
closer to 800. Many of these escape attempts were dramatic. People leapt
form windows, tunneled and crept through sewers, rammed through the gates
in steel-plated trucks, crawled through mud, and swam the icy waters of
the city's rivers and canals. Even though the Wall created international
crises, divided families, and spawned villains and gangsters, it also produced
its heroes. Brave men and women who lived in the shadow of the Wall found
ways to elude Communism.

Escape soon became harder. The barbed wire
was replaced with concrete slabs. Waterways were blocked by underground
fences. Windows along the borders had bricks instead of glass. Getting
across became increasingly difficult, and it required ingenuity as well
as determination.

In the first year alone, 14 attempts were
made to breach the wall through driving into it. Many drove through legal
checkpoints. Twice, East Germans escaped in a car so low that it could
be driven right under the horizontal bars at the crossing points. Vertical
bars were added to make it even more impossible. Many escaped in cleverly
designed hiding places in cars driven by West Germans who could cross the
border legally. Three escaped using Soviet Union military uniforms that
a friend had sewn for them. Peter Fechter, an eighteen year old boy, was
one of the first who tried to scale the wall outright. The East Germans
shot him down while West Berliners heard Fechter's cries for help for nearly
an hour.

Escapees tried to get under the Wall using
sewer systems. (It soon became blocked by watchful East German police)

In 1962, NBC, the American Public television network, provided funds to
dig a tunnel from Bernauer St., in East Berlin, to Schoenholzer St., in

West Berlin. "That September, the TV network filmed the escape of fifty-six
refugees before flooding shut down the tunnel." (Mirabile 10) Probably
the longest and the most famous tunnel was the one built in 1964 by Wolfgang

Fuchs. This tunnel was Fuchs's seventh, and it was 140 ft. long, almost

40 ft. below the city, and about 28 inches high inside. It took six months
to build, and 57 people were able to use it before it was discovered.

Man's intelligence and ingenuity was constantly
being tested to cross the Wall. "One