The Rise & Fall of Berlin Wall
- The Soviet Union, which controlled the Eastern Part of Germany after the Second World War, constructed the Berlin wall that separated West Berlin from East Berlin and East Germany.
- The living conditions for the population of West Germany were better than East, and many East Germans fled to the West. The purpose of the wall was to stop people from doing that.
- On November 9, 1989, the Soviets announced a change in the process to obtain the travel document to enter West Germany. It was a complicated, lengthy and costly process to discourage people from getting the travel document.
- Many demonstrators and protestors gathered around the gates of the border/wall, and they overpowered the guards and eventually demolished the wall.
- In October 1990, Germany was officially united.
The Rise of Berlin Wall
The Allied Forces, which consisted of the United States, Britain, France and the Soviet Union, defeated the Axis Powers – a joint front of Italy, Japan and Germany, in the Second World War. Germany surrendered, and Allied Forces took control. But they were divided into two groups themselves and they had their visions of rebuilding Germany. While the West (US, Britain & France) wanted to establish Democratic rule in Germany, the Soviets wanted to impose communism.
They divided Germany into two parts – the Federal Republic of Germany, also known as West Germany and the Democratic Republic of Germany, also known as East Germany. The Soviets controlled the East and the West (the US, Britain, and France) controlled the West.
While the West wanted to empower the people of Germany by enabling democracy, the Soviets saw it as an opportunity to get the money back they had lost in the war. Even though the people in East Germany got free health care and education, the quality of life was not good. People were being watched constantly by the Soviets, and they were not allowed to speak against the Government. But in the West, there was democracy, and people had more freedom, higher salaries and more consumer products. To worsen the situation in the East, the Soviets restricted and banned trade from the West, thus creating a virtual barrier, also known as The Iron Curtain.
The better quality of life and freedom in the West attracted the people in the east, and they started to migrate to the West. Since as per the treaty signed at the time of division, both West (US, Britain and France) and the Soviets had the joint administration of Berlin. And it became an easy way for people to move to the West from East Germany. By 1961, about 3.5 million people, nearly 20% population, including many young professionals, left the Democratic Republic of Germany and moved to the Federal Republic of Germany. When the Soviets could not stop people from crossing the virtual border, there was no choice left, and they began the construction of the wall in 1961.
When East Germany decided to close the border, they initially used barbed wire and mesh fencing. The fencing consisted of 43 KM through Berlin (dividing Berlin into two parts – East and West) and a further 112 KM through East Germany to separate the West from East. But since this was not the most effective barrier to stop people, they started building a 3.5-meter-high wall made of concrete barricades. By 1965 it was 106 KM long topped with a smooth pipe to prevent people from climbing. Over the years, they strengthened the barricade with spike strips, guard dogs and even land mines. In addition, there were around 302 watch towers and 20 bunkers. Parallel to the wall, they cleared an area of about 100 meter square by demolishing every building and covered it with sand to give a clear view to the guards. It was called The Death Strip, and the guards were given the order to shoot anyone at sight if they saw anyone crossing the border. However, between 1961 to 1989, around 5000 people managed to flee East Germany. Over 138 people died while trying to escape. In the end, the wall stabilised the economy of east Germany by preventing the workforce from leaving.
The Fall of Berlin Wall
To prevent people from going to the West officially, the Soviets created the process of getting the travel document extremely complicated, lengthy, and costly. But the number of applications grew day by day.
By the end of 1980s the liberalisation of other eastern block caused mass demonstration for free travel and demands for democracy. To diffuse the tension, on November 9, 1989, the Soviet announced a change in rules and process of obtaining the travel document. It encouraged the people on both sides, and they marched towards the walled-border to continue their demands. The crowd eventually overpowered the security guards at the gate and forced them to the open the gates. Some of the protestors and demonstrators started to demolish the wall, and the wall eventually fell.
In October 1990, Germany was officially reunited.
Featured Image By Noir, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link