On Sunday August 13th, 1961, Berliners woke up to see a wall dividing Eastern and Western Berlin. It would not be until 28 years later that they would be able to see their family and friends that lived on the other side.
The Berliner Mauer (Berlin Wall) was built by the German Democratic Republic (GDR) in order to stop the immigration from East to West Germany. The GDR had tried imposing legal emigration restrictions before, but 3.5 million east had still managed to cross the border to the west –from where they could also travel to other Western European countries, and most had done it through Berlin.
First a wired fence, the Berlin Wall soon evolved into a 3.6 meters high (12 ft) double concrete barrier with watch towers. The walls circumscribed a “death strip” – an area with “fakir beds”, anti-vehicle trenches, barb wire, dogs, etc. After its construction, only 5,000 people successfully escaped to the West. The number of deaths has been debated.
The GDR authorities called it the "Anti-Fascist Protection Wall" –from Nazism-, while West Berlin sometimes called it the “Wall of Shame”, because of the movement restriction it implied. In Cold War times, the Berlin Wall was also a materialization of the Iron Curtain between the Eastern Bloc and Western Europe.
A peaceful revolution took place in East Germany in late 1989. Starting in August, when Hungary removed physical border defenses with Austria, Eastern Germans started to travel to eastern countries as tourists and cross the borders into Western Europe from there. Protest demonstrations and chants followed the GDR’s resistance to the point the politburo decided to allow refugees and private travel to exit through German crossing points, Berlin included. Regulations were to take place on November 17th, 1989.
The decision was taken on November 9th. That same day, their spokesperson Günter Schabowski, was handed a note announcing the changes during a press conference. With no further instructions, he read the note out loud and, when asked, said changes would come into effect that same day. East Berliners soon gathered at the border, where the surprised guards had no other option but to yield and let them cross. West Berliners received them in a festive atmosphere.
Little by little, the crowds and souvenir hunters chipped the wall down. Industrial equipment was used by the government to remove what was left. The task was completed officially on October 3rd, 1990. The Fall of the Berlin Wall and German reunification had started.
Only 3 long sections of the wall still stand nowadays: the Topography of Terror’s 80-metre (263 ft) piece of the first wall, halfway between Potsdamer Platz and Checkpoint Charlie; the East Side Gallery’s piece of the second -eastern- wall near the Oberbaumbrücke; and a partly reconstructed section at Bernauer Straße, now a memorial. A private museum by Checkpoint Charlie rebuilt a 200-metre (656 ft) section. Most of the courses of the former border, about 160 kilometres, have been turned into a hiking and biking path: the Berlin Wall Trail.
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