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Berlin Wall: Another Memory

  • August 12th, 2011
  • Posted by EUEditor

berlin-wallmarswnecedu.jpgThe historical milestone of the coming-down of the Wall was remembered on its tenth anniversary, two years ago; and this weekend marks another anniversary, its construction 50 years ago.


It happened also on a weekend; workers and police were sent to the boundary between East Berlin and the rest of city, during the night of 12 August 1961, and the next day, all could see them with the work well in hand – putting up brick sectors and stringing barbed wire.

Where people had moved uneasily back and forth, now it would become impossible even to look across.

berlin-wall-graffiti-1.jpgThe barrier policy would continue without relent for another 28 years, with the object itself moving from a mostly wire barricade, through four generations of brick and concrete construction, to the final installation: a two-metre wall made from  prefabricated concrete slabs with rolled tops, the “death strip” of bare, illuminated Earth, watch towers, and a khaki inner wall on the Eastern side made from bricks and stucco.

There had been rumours of a wall of some sort in 1961, but no announcements.

Some 3.5 million had fled the communist state set up in the Soviet sector of occupied Germany, putting its nascent economy, literally built out of the rubble of war, in immediate danger of collapse.

The rationale dealt out by the State authorities was that it was an “anti-fascist protection barrier”, set up to keep out extremist elements from the West who would sabotage the new “democratic republic”.


Double-think would prevail.

With the sudden separation of families, people stranded on one side or the other while off to work, individuals lost and feeling a claustrophobia over the Wall, many made desperate dashes to get across.

These were called “traitors” and were brought under fire.


Between 100 and 200 were killed along the Berlin Wall and the adjoining internal German border, up to February 1989 when the last, a man called Chris Gueffroy was killed.

There were about 5000 escape attempts all told, several successful, and often celebrated as stunts, where single people, or small groups would get though in specially modified cars, ultra-light planes of balloons, tunnels, the sewers, or even windsurfing at sea.

Among dozens of painful and poignant incidents, the death of Peter Fechter, 18, a year after the erection of the barrier, generated perhaps the greatest shock to watching humanity.

He was shot and left to bleed to death on the wire; on the Western side they could do nothing but film it and broadcast what was happening on television.


The Berlin Wall did block mass migration out of the communist state, until the era of the border crossers of late 1989, who found new ways out through Czechoslovakia and Hungary, as failing regimes began opening the Iron Curtain.

berlin-wall-europaeu.jpgIt enabled the government to build a largely autarchic East German economy, which outstripped some of its Eastern Bloc neighbours for output and productivity, but fell far behind West Germany

Renovating  Eastern Germany became a cruelly expensive undertaking of the state after the reunification of  Germany on 3.10.90.

Where the fact of the Berlin Wall was a testament to venality and untruth, the ending of it in a huge spontaneous street  party demonstrated the other side of the species, in love of  freedom, the triumph of the human spirit.