The Berlin Wall

 

On 13 August 1961 the East German government started building The Berlin Wall, which separated West from East Berlin. It was made up of large concrete walls, barbed wire and guard towers. The Berlin Wall became part of the Iron Curtain which separated the Communist eastern bloc of Europe from the west during the Cold War.

The East German authorities claimed that building the wall was important to defend Communist East Berlin from the capitalist western section of the city. They called West Germans fascists who still believed in Hitler. In reality, however, the Berlin Wall was built to stop thousands of East Berliners from emigrating to the free western part of the city in search of a new and better life.

 

When Berliners woke up on August 13, 1961 their city had completely changed. The border to West Berlin had been closed. East German soldiers started putting up fences throughout the city. Telephone lines were cut and transportation connections between east and west stopped. Within the next few months a strong concrete wall was built. The construction of a wall to divide the city surprised Berliners because a few days before East German Communist Party boss Walter Ulbricht declared that the German Democratic Republic had no such intention.

East Germans build the wall in 1961

East Germans build the wall in 1961

 

The wall was not only built straight through Berlin but also around the border to East Germany. All in all it was over 140 kilometres long and up to 4.5 meters high. Barbed wire, electric fences and trenches were among the barriers that the wall contained. The final hundred metres that led to the wall were called Death Strip, covered with mines and tripwires. In this section guards were ordered to shoot to kill.

Until the construction of the wall the section border between East and West Berlin was open. Over half a million people passed it every day. Many East Berliners worked in the western part of the city, some went shopping and to bars and cinemas there.

Many Germans wanted to escape to West Germany because they saw that life there was better than in the Communist east. When the border between East and West Germany was closed in 1952 travel between the two parts of Berlin was still allowed. Many East Germans saw this as the only way of escaping to West Germany, which they finally reached through an air link. In the time before the wall was completed about 3.5 million people had escaped to West Berlin, crossing the free border. Families were separated; older people were often left behind. East Germany lost many skilled workers to the west.

Checkpoints along the Berlin Wall

Checkpoints along the Berlin Wall

 

From 1961 until the fall of Communism in 1989 about 5,000 people tried to escape from East Germany. Over 170 people were killed, most of them shot by border guards. In the 28 years that the wall existed people tried to escape in many different and strange ways. At the beginning they crossed by simply climbing over the fences. As the wall became stronger and wider people tried to get to the west by crashing trucks into it or even by digging tunnels under the wall. Successful attempts also included a escaping in a hot air balloon.

Visitors, diplomats and members of the military were only allowed to cross the border at certain places called checkpoints. The most famous of them was Checkpoint Charlie, which many films, spy novels and plays dealt about.

Politicians from all over the western world put pressure on the Eastern Germans to tear down the wall. In an historic visit by American President John F Kennedy in 1963 he supported West Berlin with the famous words “Ich bin ein Berliner”.

When in 1989 rebellions against Communism spread all across Eastern Europe the East German government announced on 9 November 1989 that all citizens of the German Democratic Republic could travel across the border freely. In the weeks and months that followed the wall was torn down. East and West Berlin became one undivided city. Almost a year later, on October 3 1990 East and West Germany were reunified. Today some parts of the wall still exist as memorials. Most of the wall, however, was used for construction programs, some parts were sold to museums.

 

Berlin Wall from West Berlin

Berlin Wall from West Berlin - Noir

 

Related Topics

 

Words

  • allow = permit, tolerate
  • attempt = try
  • authorities = people who are in high positions in an organization
  • barbed wire = thin metal with sharp points on it
  • barrier = object that keeps people away from something
  • border = line between two areas or countries
  • capitalist = economic system in which people try to earn as much money and sell as many goods as possible
  • certain = special
  • checkpoint = a place where people or cars are checked before crossing
  • citizen = person who lives in a country and has rights there
  • Cold War = the unfriendly relationship between the USA and the Soviet Union after World War II
  • complete = finish
  • completely = totally
  • concrete = material used for building that is made by mixing sand, water and cement
  • connection = link
  • construction = building
  • contain = have
  • cover = have something on top
  • declare = to say officially
  • defend = guard
  • dig = to remove earth and make a hole in the ground
  • emigrate = to leave your home country and go somewhere else
  • escape = to get away from something dangerous
  • fascist = political system in which the government takes full control of the state and no opposition is allowed
  • fence = structure made of wood, metal or concrete that is built around a piece of land
  • German Democratic Republic = communist country that existed between 1949 and 1989
  • government = people who rule a country
  • guard = person watching an area
  • guard tower = high structure in which people watch a place
  • hot air balloon = large balloon filled with hot air that carries people around
  • however = but
  • in reality = the truth
  • include = consist of
  • intention = plan
  • Iron Curtain = name that was used for the border between Communist and western Europe after World War II
  • memorial = place that reminds you of people who have died or of special events
  • military = army
  • mine = bomb that is hidden in the earth; it explodes when you step on it
  • politician = someone who works in politics or in the government
  • pressure = to get someone to do something
  • reach = get to
  • rebellion = revolt, fight, uprising
  • reunify = to become one country again
  • sectionborder = line between the eastern and western part of Berlin
  • separate = divide
  • skilled = talented
  • spread = to move from one place to another
  • spy novel = a book about people who try to find out secret information about countries
  • strange = unusual
  • support = help
  • tear down = remove something
  • throughout = in all of
  • transportation = system of carrying goods and passengers from one place to another
  • trench = a long narrow hole that is dug into the ground
  • tripwire = a small thin piece of metal that stretches across the ground as part of a trick to catch a person or make them fall
  • truck = large cars that can transport goods
  • undivided = single, not separated
  • wide = broad, not narrow