|Remnants of and a reminder of where the Wall once stood|
Yesterday my blog post
included pictures of the remaining portions of the Berlin Wall. Intellectually I knew that the wall divided a city in half but until I actually walked through the city I didn't quite understand exactly what this meant. The Wall literally and figuratively divided a city in half. It physically separated families from one another, split neighborhoods and even apartment buildings in two, and cut people off from their very ways of life. And contrary to what I had thought, the wall was not a solid straight line slicing Berlin in two. Rather it was quite the opposite. It zig zagged, twisted and turned through neighborhoods and along streets, taking sharp turns and in some cases dividing actual buildings. The line the Wall followed remains today so visitors can see the actual path it cut. But even without the line as a reminder in many of the neighborhoods along the Wall it is easy to see what was located in the east and what remained in the west.
|Wall remnants dividing a neighborhood|
The division of Berlin was one of the outcomes of the end of World War II. During post war negotiations, Berlin was divided amongst the four Allied powers of the United States, Great Britain, France and the (then) Soviet Union. Tensions quickly increased between Stalin's Communist bloc and the western allies with living conditions in the Soviet controlled German Democratic Republic becoming increasingly strict. Indoctrination in Marxism-Leninism became compulsory in schools, property and industry were nationalized and residents themselves were coming under increased scrutiny from Soviet secret police. As living conditions became more strict, East Germans increasingly wanted the Soviets to leave but that didn't happen. As a result, East Germans themselves began fleeing to the west. And the Soviet's answer to all of this was to construct a physical barrier that would prevent people from leaving.
In 1961, and seemingly overnight, the Berlin Wall was erected. At midnight of 12 August, the East German police closed their border with the west and by morning roads allowing access to West Berlin had been broken up and destroyed in an attempt to stop the flow of vehicle traffic. (Trains continued to move from the west to the east and back again but they didn't stop at the eastern stations where passengers saw only armed guards as the trains passed by. These stations became known as "ghost stations").
|Exploring the rebar remnants |
A total of 124 miles of barbed wire separating East Berlin from the west were quickly erected slightly inside the Eastern line. By late fall the wire had been reinforced with a 12 foot high rebar and concrete wall essentially closing off the east from the west. For extra security a second wall was created with a buffer zone in between that became known as the "death strip". The death strip area allowed guards manning the strategically placed towers an unobstructed view of the entire area. The barrier was essentially impenetrable and the East German police made sure it stayed that way. Guards were ordered to shoot on sight anyone they saw attempting to climb over the Wall. The official number of people who were killed while attempting to scale the Wall between 1961 and 1989 is136 but other statistics have the numbers being higher. The higher numbers take into account bodies found along the Wall, suicides of people who died after failed attempts to cross the barrier and even heart attacks that took place at the official border crossings. Soldiers themselves committed suicide and the first victim is said to be a young woman whose apartment abutted the new Wall. Her back door which faced the west had been boarded up with bricks overnight and she attempted to escape to the west by jumping from a third floor window. The youngest victim was only one and the oldest was 80. Others attempted to dig tunnels under the Wall in order to escape. And in order to prevent the guards themselves from escaping they always worked in pairs and were not allowed to talk to one another lest they become friends. And of course the order to shoot extended to the guards as well.
This week marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Wall. With the falling of the wall life once again changed but it didn't instantly revert back to the way life had been before its construction. Remnants of the wall remained, and still remain today, and the scars of the past are ever present. You can see them in dedicated memorials, kitschy tourist traps and redeveloping neighborhoods. To commemorate the anniversary of the Wall's falling, a recent Washington Post article
examined the realities of a today's Germany. Although there is no longer a physical barrier separating the east from the west, the country remains divided in so many ways. I read the article while sitting in my Berlin hotel room after spending the day traipsing through the city. With the images and history of a divided Berlin so fresh in my mind the article had a whole different meaning for me. It reminded me that while the Wall went up quickly its coming down is taking, and will take, generations for people to fully recover from. History is powerful and Berlin is a city where recent history is alive and on full display for all to see. After all, those of us who forget where we came from are destined to repeat the mistakes of the past.
|A photograph of a photograph of what was known as "Checkpoint Charlie"|
Today it is one of the worst touristy photo gimmicks I've ever seen--
A prime example of a capitalist society
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