The Berlin wall was erected by the communist German Democratic Republic (GDR) of East Germany and was essentially designed to separate East and West Germany. It was a result of cold war politics that had also been witnessed subsequent to the Potsdam and Yalta Conferences during which the Allies divided up Germany. West Berlin after World War II was enclosed by East Germany and access to it was always a sensitive matter and a controversial political issue (Andreas 2).
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The disagreement was between the soviets and the allied forces of American, French and British, who differed in the reconstruction of Germany after the soviets had inflicted most of the damage during World War II. Plans were underway to rebuild Germany and make it be self-sufficient, a major industrial hub with good infrastructure and a new German currency, but the soviets under Joseph Stalin were of a different opinion.
Precursors to the Berlin wall
The soviet administration was overwhelmed by a strong opposition in the west where non-soviet zones had been combined into one block under the Marshall plan. Consequently, in 1948, Stalin instituted the Berlin Blockade which cut off food and other requirements from going to the west considering that Berlin was deep into the soviet territory.
Owing to East Berlin encircling the west, opinionated and ideological enmity amid west and east made the Western countries which are considered powerful to fly all the required supplies to West Berlin and that was between June 1948 and September 1949, this meant that the supplies were to be air lifted because the Soviets had closed road access. This was later to be known as the famous Berlin Airlift and was orchestrated by United States, Britain, France, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and several other European countries (Taylor 11).
East Germany or the German Democratic Republic (GDR) was under a communist system of governance with all property and industries were nationalized under the soviet rule. This greatly differed from West Germany or the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) which was under a democratic parliamentary system of governance which adopted a Western capitalist approach, transforming into a society with a social market economy.
This spurred persistent economic growth with the development of industries, infrastructure, and a better standard of living for the residents. By the early Fifties, thousands of East Germans were fleeing to West Germany on a daily basis, majority of who were accomplished business people and specialists looking for better opportunities in West Berlin, and this lead to heavy losses in manpower in the GDR.
Soviets had introduced compulsory Marxism-Leninism doctrines in all East Germany school curriculums, which inturn led to the moving of professors and their students to the west so as to escape such extremist ideology and this led to massive brain drain experienced in the east (Gale 22).
In 1960, the East Germany exodus now totaling to millions of civilians was predictably damaging to the political integrity and economic capability of East Germany, making it vital to fortify its borders with the west, especially West Berlin for feasibility of the country to endure.
Erection of the wall
On August 13, 1961, the East German army began to close the border with West Germany, installing barbed wire entanglements chain fences, nail beds, minefields, and other obstacles and barriers along the 155 kilometers strip. Houses and other buildings were demolished in the process to pave way for the blockade.
On August 15 1961, the concrete foundation for the wall was laid down and eventually a 106 kilometer and 3.6 meter high concrete section was erected. 43 kilometers of the wall separated east and West Berlin, and a further 37 kilometer section of the wall divided residential vicinities (Prager 13).
It was further reinforced with 67 kilometers of wire mesh fencing, 106 kilometers of anti vehicle trenches, 302 watchtowers, 20 bunkers and 126 kilometers of contact fence, effectively shutting off East Germany from the West, as a result transforming West Berlin into an enclave. In June 1962, a second equivalent fence was built about 100 meters deep in East German terrain.
All houses and buildings located between the two fences were demolished and the area cleared out (Elander 23). This region was bare and was later covered with raked gravel, rendering footprints easy to detect and extended for 124 kilometers. The aim behind this was to prevent escapees heading to the west from scaling the wall and offered a clear line of fire to the perimeter guards. Any civilian who was spotted in this area was immediately shot dead.
This place was later came to be known as “The Death Strip”. Approximately 190 people were killed in this region with a further 200 being injured by gunshot inflicted wounds. Though it was a violation of the postwar Potsdam Agreements, The allied forces did not challenge the existence of the wall, and only committed to protecting serving West Germans in a political move that was aimed at avoiding conflict with the U.S.S.R.
The exodus from the east gradually slowed down and majority of East Germans could no longer visit, work or move to west Germany. Families who had their members in both east and west at the time of completion of the wall were separated for more than a quarter of a century.
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Other professionals who commuted to work in the west found themselves unemployed since there was no access to their jobs. Protests erupted in West Berlin, and the West Berliners criticized the allied forces for not antagonizing the construction of the wall, although the Potsdam Agreements gave them mandate over the whole of Berlin, (Fred 55).
Crossing the wall
At first, there was nobody who was allowed to cross over either in the west or east from the time the wall was built but it later changed in 1963. This was brought about by intense negotiations amid GDR and FRG governments that allowed West Germans limited access and restricted visits to the east during Christmas between 1963 and 1966.
After 1971 agreements, the borders between east and west became more porous to West Berliners who could then apply for a visa to East Germany, but the East Germans and citizens of other eastern European nations were not allowed into the west apart for a few exceptions, (Prager 28).
Permit approval was however not guaranteed for East Germans and GDR also limited the amount of money that they could convert to western currency in an attempt to restrict their financial autonomy while in the west.
This was aimed at making sure that those visiting the west would come back due to financial constraint. This led to the introduction West German’s policy of giving a small amount of money known as welcome money every year to east Germans who visited West Germany and West Berlin and this was meant to help assuage their tribulations.
However, as a requisite for the post war Four Power Arrangements, allied military employees, diplomatic personnel and civilian officials could enter and exit East Berlin without presenting their documents at East German check points, (Andreas 2). Ordinary citizens of the Western Allied states who had no official association with the Allied forces were supposed to use the approved road or rail check points in and out of East Germany and they were required to present documents to the East German border control units.
There were eight border crossings between East and West Berlin that permitted visits by West Germans. Each of the border crossings had a designated nationality group which could pass through and that was only after verification of their identity and citizenship. Certain checkpoints only allowed West Germans; others only processed East Berliners while others were restricted to Allied personnel and foreigners only.
Impact of the Berlin wall
The establishment of the Wall had significant supposition for the East German state. By effectively reducing the emigration of people from East Germany, the East German government was able to restore its mandate over the country exterminating financial hardships grounded by a weak currency and an effervescent black market leading to the commencement of substantial economic growth in East Germany.
The GDR came to the defense of the wall, asserting that the wall was primarily to limit the belligerence that the west was setting in motion in East Germany. There were allegations that western spies and agents were operating in the east, subverting government programs and initiatives as well as collecting critical information. The eastern administration also claimed that the westerners were flooding the eastern markets to buy government subsidized goods which were cheaper than those in the west, (Alex 39).
The allied forces administration saw the construction of the wall from a different perspective. There were major concerns about the Soviets recapturing part or the whole of Berlin. These concerns were however put to rest by the erection of the wall for the wall would seemingly have been a superfluous undertaking if such a strategy was being considered by the soviets, decreasing the likelihood of a martial collision over Berlin.
There was severe labor and brain drain across East Germany before the wall was erected, and most of those who immigrated were among the young and well educated group. The GDR was rapidly loosing their intelligentsia and human resource to the west.
East Germany had already lost 9.5% of its working age population among them, doctors, professors, engineers, notary and various other professionals and skilled manpower (Gale 19). This as a result led to the underdevelopment of East Germany both in infrastructure and a depleted education system (Brennan 13).
After the wall was erected, majority of the eastern work force stayed in the west, what followed was a generational gap that had inadequate human resources, and this led to an acute under development of eastern Germany, and of which is currently still evident in some parts of the current Germany. West Berlin’s elaborate train transport system was also adversely affected by the creation of the Berlin wall. Some of the transit routes were divided and eventually several stations had to be closed down,
There were a number of triumphant getaway efforts made during the era of the wall’s existence. They were reported to be more than 4,700 escapees but there were also a significant number of casualties and fatalities recorded. Escapes involved people jumping over the preliminary barbed wire or leaping out of residential houses either from the roofs or through windows.
To solve this problem, East German authorities closed off apartments within the vicinity. Later, they introduced the infamous Death Strip that saw the persistent quandary of escapees come to a grinding halt. Resourceful East Germans however resulted in using discrete methods like digging underground tunnels and using the sewer system to avoid detection (Taylor 36).
The East German government gave its border guards shooting orders when dealing with escapees, though such orders were not necessarily equivalent to shoot to kill orders. They were however ordered in an October 1973 circular to regard anyone approaching the wall as a traitor and the border guards should therefore shoot at any person attempting to cross even in the presence of women or children (1999. Fred 55).
Falling of the wall and unification of Germany
In the late 1980s, the Soviet Union began to weaken, and its collapse was imminent. The opening of Hungary’s borders to Austria in May 1989 may as well be viewed as the trigger that impelled the falling of the Berlin wall. Hungary was immediately flooded by East Germans who then crossed the border into Austria eventually camping at the West German embassy in Austria. East Germany was forced to stop any further travel to Hungary but the same case was being witnessed in Prague and Czechoslovakia (Frederick 3).
This was followed by protest through out the months of September and October 1989 and such demonstrations were recurrent, with protesters in their millions leading to the East Germans camping in all West Germany embassies being allowed to travel to the west by the East German government (Elander 1).
The protests grew by the day and in early November; the East German government was forced to open all borders leading to the west. By 11th November 1989, citizens had begun chipping off pieces of the wall as souvenirs. The official dismantling of the wall was done much later though, on June 13 1990 and it involved bulldozers and the military felling huge chunks of the wall and this went on until November 1991. The East Germany adopted the West Germany currency on July 1 1990 and the unification of Germany became a reality.
Although the economic state of affairs in the West continued to advance, the one in the East remained as static just like everywhere else in the U.S.S.R. West Germany rebuilt itself into an economic motivating force and the occupational opportunities available were of a large number. This attracted thousands of workers from all over Europe, who essentially flooded the country, giving West Germany a rich and variant workforce.
Their eastern counterpart however continued to relish in poverty and abject conditions that were not conducive for significant education or work. The East German government never gave any solid reason for the erection of the wall, but it is widely known that most of the citizens of the GDR were fleeing from the oppressive communist rule. The unification of Germany was well received locally and internationally and only then did the east see an opportunity for potential growth.
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