Berlin Wall & The Death Strip – Checkpoint Charlie

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The Cold War – Russian Winds Blew In Over Battered Berlin

From 1945 until 1989, the lives of Berliners were drastically affected by the ‘Cold’ War between the governments of the West and the Soviet Union. The building of Berlin Wall in is emblematic of the Cold War, and though expedient for the Soviets, and it was detested by civilians on both sides of it.

Before the Wall Was Built

In February 1945, the President of the United States (Franklin Roosevelt), the British Prime Minister (Winston Churchill) and the Leader of the Soviet Union (Josef Stalin), held a meeting at Yalta (in the Crimea). The countries that they represented and also ‘occupied’ France (commonly known as the Allies) , were in alliance to combat the continuing threat to free Europe posed by Hitler’s Germany.

At this meeting they decided what should happen if and when Germany surrendered. They decided to divide the country into four zones – one each to be controlled by France, the Soviet Union, the U.S. and Britain. As Berlin, the capital, would fall in the Soviet zone , the Western Allies insisted that Berlin be divided likewise, and the soviet leader Stalin agreed. The western zones of Berlin were completely surrounded by communist held territory.

Berlin fell to the Soviets in April, and in the same month, Harry Truman succeeded to the U.S. Presidency on the death of Roosevelt. The Soviet Union appointed Walter Ulbricht to manage the Eastern zone of the now occupied Germany.

There was doubt in the West as to whether the Soviets would conduct democratic elections in their zone as promised, and these doubts were well grounded, as elections held in October 1946 saw Ulbricht’s government retaining power – despite the Communists receiving less than a fifth of votes. Communist control was being maintained through the use of the ‘Red’ Army and the secret police force.

In the Western zones, by 1948 an American plan, Marshall Aid, was benefiting the West German economy, and the French, British and American governments made an agreement that the Western controlled sectors would be ‘unified’ into one zone; almost a country, to be called West Germany. This decision also applied to the three Western controlled zones of Berlin.

In April of that year, in response to the increasing disparity between the economic conditions of the Eastern and Western zones, the Soviets introduced travel restrictions from the Eastern zone. This was an attempt to stop people moving to the Western zone for economic advantages. By June, in the face of the ending of rationing and price controls and still more problematic, the introduction of a new currency in West Germany – and also therefore in West Berlin – the Soviets refused to accept the new currency, and near the end of the month, took the decision to blockade all land routes into West Berlin.

The Berlin Airlift Of 1948

image courtesy of wiki

For the next ten months, the Allies carried out, with great determination, a quite remarkable aim; to airlift all the supplies needed by West Berlin’s 2.4 million inhabitants. In total there were 277,728 flights into the zone – an average exceeding 900 per day, and they delivered over 2 million tons of supplies to the otherwise isolated sector.

300,000 thousand people from both sides of the city held a protest against the division of Berlin in September 1948, but it was not until May 1949 that Stalin finally called an end to the blockade.

East Germany After Stalin’s Death

In the Soviet Union, Stalin’s death in 1953 saw the succession of Nikita Khruschev. East German workers were suffering under the Soviet regime, and in this year the pressure continued to grow; in May the East German government decreed that all workers must increase their productivity by 10% on the previous year – and that wages would stay exactly as before.

East Berlin building workers went on strike in June; the demonstration attended by 100,000 people was met with Soviet tanks. All over East Germany, (now the GDR), in 300 or so towns, there were demonstrations against Soviet control. This discontent festered in subsequent year especially in Berlin were members of the same families found themselves living in under differing regimes. By the turn of the decade many Germans in the Eastern sector were moving into the western sectors and the communist Government decided to stem the flow.

 

The Rise And Fall Of The Berlin Wallt/ Videos

video contribution from mef83 @ YouTube

                  

In 1961, the first version of the Wall appeared overnight – a temporary barrier of barbed wire backed up by 50,000 soldiers. Two days after this, on 15 June, began the erection of concrete blocks topped with barbed wire. In the west anti-soviet propaganda led many people to believe that the erection of The Berlin Wall, was an act of aggression inspired by The Kremlin. This belief was a myth as a visit to the Berlin Wall Documentation Centre at 111 Bernauer Strasse in Berlin reveals that the Russian President at the time, Kruschev, was not in favour of it, even though people in the communist eastern sector of Berlin were crossing in droves to the allied controlled western sector. The decision to build it was taken by the East German leaders Egon Krenz – and Erich Honecker then the Central Communist Committee Secretary

Initially the components and structure of the wall were insufficient to withstand assault by heavy vehicles and tanks. As relations between the west and the soviets deteriorated in during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis the Berlin Wall took on a new significance. At the time the American President John F. Kennedy stated that any US aerial attack on the installations be being built by the Russians in Cuba would be result in the Soviet controlled forces in East Berlin being given the green light to invade the Allies enclave in West Berlin. Kennedy concluded that the inevitable loss of West Berlin would humiliate the US in the eyes of it’s allies who would view the Americans as ‘trigger happy cowboys’ who lost Berlin because they had not peacefully resolved the Cuban missile situation.

In the wake of the Cuban missile crisis the Americans and their allies reinforced their defence of the west Berlin. The Soviets, who perceived the American action as aggressive responded by carrying out several successive reinforcements of the wall from 1963 onwards. In its final fortified form The Berlin Wall was 155 km long, 3.6 metres high, furnished with 302 Observation Tower. West Berlin was surrounded – many of its people were separated from friends and family in East Berlin and beyond. There are countless accounts and memories of the experience of this aberration -many of them can be found at the Berlin Wall Documentation Centre – see below.

Berlin Wall Map Showing The Encircled West Best Berlin

this picture sourced from thirdstringgoalie blogspot

The Berlin Wall Documentation Centre & The Death Strip

Berlinermauer.jpg

image courtesy of wiki

The Berlin Wall Documentation Centre (Bernauer Strasse 111, 13355 Berlin), is undoubtedly the best resource in Berlin if you want have an idea of how Berliners’lived for 38 years in this divided city.  It has a wide range of evidence, including aerial photographs showing the Wall enclosing West Berlin, and also the story of the street that the centre is in – Bernauer Strasse. The street the pavement and road itself were in the French zone, whilst the apartment buildings, housing approximately 2,000 people, were on the Soviet side of the division. In 1961, when troops began to board up the windows of these houses as the Wall was to be built, in the ensuing panic, the residents tried to escape onto the road in the Western zone via the upper windows of their homes. Henceforth, they had no access to their own street. These people were evicted and in 1965 the buildings were demolished.

The Document Centre also offers a viewing platform overlooking Bernauer Strasse on its top floor. From point you can see two preserved sections of the original wall complete with their floodlights and patrol paths. Also visible is the area between the East and Western fortifications The East German authorities when the wall was first built laid landmines and tripwires and covered them with gravel to deter its citizens from crossing over to the Western sector. The East German border guards were under orders to shoot dead any person in seen this area. The area became known worldwide as The Death Strip.

During the city’s division it is estimated that over 5.000 people scaled the Berlin Wall in a bid to reach the Western sector. Around 100 people were shot or blown up in the process. The most publicised death was that of eighteen-year old, Peter Fetcher, who was shot by border guards in the hip as he ran across the death strip. News footage of his plight as he bled to death was shown around the world see photo above.

 

The Church In No Mans Land & The Chapel Of Reconcilation

Also on Bernauer Strasse was an old church – the Church of Reconciliation, built around 1890. When the wall was built this unfortunate building’s location was in the middle of ‘no-man’s land’ between the two border walls. Its congregation on both sides of the wall were unable to use it. The chapels spire was remained visible above the Wall.

Church_Of_Reconcilliation_Death_Strip_Berlin

image from kirche-versoehnung

In 1985, the Soviets, citing it as an obstruction to visibility, destroyed it (see photos). Parishioners responded to this abysmal act by performing a ‘Dance on the Wall’. Afterwards one of its parishioners said :“We can do something. And if we have faith in symbolic actions, then we know that symbols have a silent power which can make the ‘impossible’ possible.” In 1999 ten years after the fall of the wall the present day Chapel of Reconciliation was completed. Mixed into the building materials of the new chapel were fragments and remains of the original building.

The Wall Comes Down

On November 9th 1989 the wall fell, signalling the end of the the division of Germany Soviet and the Soviet era itself. Germany faced a massive challenge economically socially and politically which was again reflected on a smaller scale by the city of Berlin. The legacy of two radically different political and social systems, economies and working practices, each with their respective virtues and vices are being reconciled. The visitor to Berlin cannot be oblivious to the inheritance of the division – it is there in architecture and attitudes – but the city endures in its identity as Germany’s capital, first and foremost.

What Remains Of The Berlin Wall Today

Little remains of the original wall – though fragments of it can be found on the mantelpieces of souvenir hunters worldwide. In Berlin itself there a few strips. These can be found at the site of the former Gestapo Headquarters, at Oberbaumbrucke on the Spree river (know by locals as the East Side Gallery) and at Berner Strausse. The latter section has been partly reconstructed and is conveniently alongside the Chapel of Reconciliation and the Document Centre. Other very small sections of the wall can be found at random across central Berlin but they do not convey the ambiance or oppression of the wall. Even the East Side Gallery section is ameliorated by the graffiti upon it. In some parts of the city the former existence of the wall is defined by rows of cobblestones along the street.

Editorial Note: Tourists who visit Berlin today can hire apartments in the former eastern sector, especially in high rise blocks near the former centre of East Berlin Alexanderplatz. If they talk to the older locals they can hear first hand accounts about the original division of the city. and its affects on their lives. More surprising though are some of their feelings about the downside and benefits they have experienced since the fall of wall.

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Checkpoint Charlie Where The West Met The East

Image result for checkpoint charlie

image from anti-war BlogSpot

Checkpoint Charlie & The Checkpoint Charlie Museum The original Checkpoint Charlie is no more. Michael Caine assured us there is one ‘well actually – there is one – but its nothing like the original – cause you know they ain’t going to ask questions and where you will sleeping tonight. The reconstruction named Checkpoint Charlie outside the Checkpoint Charlie Museum Friedrichstrasse 43-45, 10969 Berlin – Kreuzberg, has an air of pantomime, with mock border guards and an attitude of American derring-do, and is only worth attention if, as a Westerner, one likes to feel embarrassed. The museum itself is badly laid out cramped and has an air of chaos about. It sells tacky souvenirs many that are probably made in Taiwan. The admission charges are over €12 for an adult, €9+ for children over ten, and €5+ for children over six making it the city’s no.1 tourist trap.

Berlin Wall Editorial Comment

There are many myths embedded in our perception of the history of Eastern Europe and particularly Berlin. Visiting this part of the world is the only way to discover the truth. One thing is for certain – it is rich in enduring cultures which have survived the invasiveness of empires and the advocacy of those who have political and economic objectives. The modern day US Checkpoint Charlie is something that Berliners and for that matter Americans can probably live without. It is not a good ambassador for the states a country that attaches so much importance in winning ‘hearts and minds’. Best by passed unless you are into tacky stuff of which it really is the best.!

 

 

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