The Berlin Wall
After World War II, meetings at Yalta and Potsdam were held to determine what to do with the countries which Germany under Hitler had conquered. Germany was divided into two sections. The Soviets took the eastern half. The western half was divided among England, the United States and later France. The city of Berlin was totally inside the Soviet part of Germany. However, it too was divided into sectors just like the country.
The Soviets didn't like the fact that part of Berlin was occupied by the western powers. Nikita Khrushchev, the leader of the Soviet Union, decided to set up a blockade of West Berlin in 1948. No food or supplies could reach the western section of the city. The western allies carried on an airlift of supplies to the city. Russia discontinued the blockade in 1949.
Beginning in 1958, tension began again. Millions of young professionals were escaping from Germany to the west. Many negotiations were held, but no solutions came about. In June, 1961, 19,000 people escaped from East Germany through Berlin. On August 12, the greatest number of people left in one day, 2400. That night in August, 1961, Premier Khrushchev told the government of East Germany to build a permanent border between the two parts of Berlin. Within two weeks, using the army, police and volunteers, a structure of barbed wire and concrete was erected.
Before the building of the wall, people could move back and forth from East Berlin to West Berlin. They could shop, visit friends and work. Subways and train lines operated between the two parts. After the wall was built, passage from one part of Berlin to the other was allowed only through three checkpoints in the wall. These were called Checkpoints Alpha, Bravo and Charlie. Officials and diplomats were screened carefully before being allowed to cross the border. Most other residents could not ever make the crossing.
The wall did stop the large flow of refugees from the east. President John Kennedy, of course, did not like this situation, but said, 'A wall is a lot better than a war.' As time progressed, the East Germans made the wall stronger and more permanent. It became a 12-foot high wall which was four feet wide. A huge pipe went across the top. This made escape very difficult. On the East German side of the wall was a sandy area called the 'Death Strip.' Soldiers and dogs patrolled this stretch of land. Floodlights prevented people from hiding in the dark. Escaping was extremely dangerous and just about impossible.
Although 171 people were killed as they tried to escape over the wall, from the time the wall was built in 1961 until 1989 when the wall came down, more than 5,000 people got out of East Germany. They used methods like jumping out of nearby windows, using hot air balloons, crawling through sewers and climbing over barbed wire. 600 border guards escaped as part of that total number.
Tensions began to lessen in the late 1980s. The East Germans wanted a change in their relations with western countries. A member of the East German government announced to the world on November 9, 1989, that, beginning at midnight, citizens of East Germany could cross the border without penalty. People from both sides of the wall ran to it at midnight drinking and shouting 'Tor auf.' This means 'Open the gate!'
That weekend, more than 2 million people visited East Berlin. They were called 'mauerspechte', wall woodpeckers, because they tried to pull off stones and chunks of cement off the wall. The city was reunited for the first time since 1945. The reunification was made official on October 3, 1990.
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