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The Fall of the Berlin Wall

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The Berlin Wall.

Two things triggered this article, firstly, the 20th Anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the secondly the imminent visit of a veteran from the Berlin Airlift.  I was still at school when the Berlin Wall came down and the Army section of my CCF unit was on camp in Germany when it happened.  I remember quite clearly the photos of our CSM sitting on the wall with a hammer.  When they came back the Officers’ and SNCO’s mess was presented with a fragment of the wall.  In this article CI Scott gives us some of the back ground. (Ed.)

After WWII the allied powers of the UK, USA, France and Russia split Germany and controlled a quarter each (see map). The capital city, Berlin, which lay deep within the Soviet controlled section, was similarly divided. Within two years the USA, UK and France combined their zones, paving the way for Germany’s recovery to once again being self sufficient.  Meanwhile, the Soviet Leader, Stalin, was forming the Warsaw Pact; a Soviet controlled belt of countries along the Soviet Union’s (USSR) western edge.   The Pact included Poland, Hungary and Russia’s quarter of Germany. Stalin began nationalising East Germany’s industries and made Marxist teaching part of the curriculum in schools. The secret police kept East German occupants under close control. Russia disagreed with many of the other Allies’ plans. A Germany that was supposed to be on the road to recovery now seemed more split than ever and the allied half of Berlin, surrounded by Soviet East Germany looked particularly under threat. The country was in recession, and Stalin wanted it to remain that way so it was relatively weak and easy to control. The non-Soviet allies’ introduction of a new currency, the Deutschemark, in an attempt to bring the country out of recession was the final straw.  On 24th June 1948, Stalin instituted the Berlin Blockade. This stopped food and other supplies from entering West Germany. Communication to Berlin from non-Soviet areas was cut. The idea was that Russia would then supply all of Berlin with its provisions and so effectively control the city. The allies had no legal agreement to allow them to pass through Soviet controlled East Germany to West Berlin. Only the air-bridge had been legally negotiated. There were three 20 mile wide air corridors into Berlin. By flying in supplies, the Russians would have to either shoot down the planes (a seriously reprehensible course of action) or stop the blockade. On the 25th of June the airlift began. Around 1,500 tonnes of food and 3,500 tonnes of goal and gasoline were needed daily giving an enormous amount to be airlifted each day. This was done with British C-47s, Dakotas and Avro Yorks and American C-54 Skymasters, among others. The airlift was expected to last just three weeks. It went on for almost 11 months, over 200,000 flights, ending with Russia’s lifting of the blockade on 12th May 1949.

Berlin Map.Over the next few years the capitalist West Germany’s economy picked up and living standards improved. Many occupants of the less well recovered communist East Germany wanted to emigrate west. In order to prevent this, Stalin ordered for the demarcation line between East and West Germany to become a controlled border. A barbed wire fence was erected across the country, splitting the East and West. The emigration had left East German with a severely reduced population, particularly of educated young people.  Halting the flow of people to the west was imperative to the Soviets. Streets along the border in Berlin began to be torn up, making them impassable to vehicles. Fences and barbed wire entanglements were erected. On 15th August 1961 the first concrete segments were added. The building of the Berlin Wall had begun.

After several generations the wall was much more than just a wall and offered a virtually impassable line of defences including the reinforced concrete wall itself, anti-vehicle trenches, watchtowers, bunkers, beds of nails and even dogs on long leashes! 100 m in from the wall a secondary fence was erected and gravel put in to the area between the two, known as ‘the death strip’. Footprints in the gravel would indicate escapees and also show up inattentive guards. There were just 8 border crossing points and the movement of people across the border was strictly controlled by visas and permits. There were some 5,000 successful escape attempts but unfortunately over 130 people were killed in their attempts.

After August of 1989, started by the removal of restrictions in Hungary, massive refugee movements began. East Germans, holidaying in Hungary could now escape. They took refuge in the embassy in West Berlin and refused to go back to East Germany. Massive protests and demonstrations began with gatherings of half a million people. Refugee movements were enormous. The long time leader of East Germany, Erich Honecker, resigned in October 1989 and was replaced by Egon Krenz. On the 9th of November Krenz agreed to allow the movement of refugees across the border and to allow private travel.  After a poorly informed spokesman at a press conference announced that the allowance of movement was to take effect immediately thousands of people rushed to the wall, overwhelmed the confused guards and began crossing freely in to West Germany.  In the days and weeks that followed many people flocked to the wall with hammers and picks and started chipping off memento pieces. On June 13th 1990 the East German military began officially dismantling the wall after relieving all restriction on travel. Demolition was complete in November 1991.  On November 9th 2009 Germany celebrated the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall with a ‘festival of freedom’. 1000 foam domino tiles were toppled, symbolically resembling the fall of the wall.

Read more about this in our article "Sqn Ldr Garrett and the Berlin Airlift".

Last Updated on Saturday, 15 May 2010 21:12