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Berlin Wall a proof of failure


Germany

Berlin Wall a proof of failure

In the 1960s, the division of Europe would slice deeper with the Cold War.

Berlin in the wake of allied victory in World War Two was still drawn and quartered into British, French, American and Soviet administrative sectors.

Life was better in the western half than in the Communist eastern half, which called itself the Democratic Republic of Germany (GDR), and so Germans were deserting it for the allied side.

This losing millions in population greatly vexed the Soviets and East German authorities, and so they built what they called their anti-fascist rampart — the wall — although it wasn’t to keep people out, it was to keep GDR Germans in.

Preparations were such a well-kept secret that it took Berliners by surprise on 13th August, 1961 to find a wall practically thrown up overnight by a combination of soldiers, police and workers’ militia. It was a Sunday.

East-West streets and transport were severed. Soviet troops squared off for any trouble with the Allies — who had not seen this coming either.

Now, suddenly, neighbours, families and friends found barbed wire between them.

Thousands of Berliners lost jobs, unable to commute. Front line buildings’ doors and windows were bricked up.

The Wall was, in fact, to become two of them, 3.6 metres high, with a clear line-of-fire, mined and trip-wired no-man’s-land five-to-150 metres wide separating them.

Some 300 watch towers overlooked this, with 14,000 armed guards and 600 dogs to patrol.

Some of the guards, more than a thousand, had other ideas, like 19-year-old Conrad Schumann who hopped it when the deadly strip was just three days old.

Thousands of ordinary Germans tried to breach these fortifications, to escape the GDR. Attempts were punished, and 138 people died trying, many of them shot, even pregnant women.

The first to die was one Ida Siekman, on 22nd August, in a failed jump from her window.

The last was a man, on 8th March, 1989, Winfried Freudenberg, who flew a balloon that got across but then crashed.

Others climbed, crawled, tunnelled or were smuggled in vehicles or brazened through checkpoints with false papers.

Nearly 28 years after its initial construction, the Wall had been a fixture for so long, it had come to seem permanent — the east drab, economically behind, secret police and informants rife.

Demonstrations for freedom broke out all over the foundering Communist state in September 1989.

Then the authorities finally flung open the gates.

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