3/2/12 - a hundred-mile wall is built in berlin

In today's excerpt - the Berlin Wall. In 1945, the U.S., the Soviet Union, Britain, and the French divided Germany into four Zones of Occupation and its capital, Berlin, into four Sectors. Given Germany's war-prone past, the Allies were determined not to let it reunify and return as a power on the world stage. "West" Germany of the U.S., Britain and France experienced vibrant growth, while "East" Germany of the Soviet Union fell far behind—leading to a mass exodus of the brightest East Germans to West Germany, primarily across the porous borders of Berlin:

"Until 1961, ... Berlin represented a dangerous anomaly from the East's point of view. Though a hundred miles inside East Ger­many, and surrounded by Soviet and East German forces, it remained under joint four-power Allied occupation and kept a special status, still more or less one city, in which fairly free movement was possible. Its porous boundaries represented a hole, an 'escape hatch' through which enterprising East Germans could head to the by-now booming West in pursuit of political freedom and a higher standard of living than their neo-Stalinist masters were prepared to allow them.

"Between 1945 and 1961, some two and a half million fled in this way, reducing [East Germany]'s population by around 15 per cent. Ominously for the Communist regime, most emigrants were young and well quali­fied. The country was losing the cream of its educated professionals and skilled workers at a rate that risked making the Communist state totally unviable. During the summer of 1961, this exodus reached crit­ical levels. Every day, thousands of East Germans slipped into West Berlin and from there were flown to West Germany itself along the so-called 'air corridors'. The regime was not prepared to abandon the political and economic restrictions that fueled the haemorrhaging of its brightest and best. Hence, on that fateful August weekend, the Communists' vast undertaking to seal off East from West Berlin, to close the 'escape hatch'.

"Since the end of the war, Berlin had been a constant, running sore in East-West relations. In 1948-9 Stalin had tried to blockade the Western-occupied sectors into submission by closing off all the land routes into the city. The West surprised him with a successful airlift that kept their sectors supplied with sufficient essentials to survive. After a little under a year of siege, the Russian leader gave up. However, only Stalin's death prevented a wall, or something very much like it, being constructed through Berlin in 1953. In 1958, his successor, Nikita Khrushchev, every bit as aware of the city's precarious posi­tion, started threatening West Berlin's status once more. The ebullient, unpredictable Soviet leader compared the Allied-occupied sectors to the West's tenderest parts. If, Khrushchev joked, he wanted to cause NATO pain, all he had to do was squeeze....

"And on Sunday 13 August, Khrushchev squeezed. The day became known as 'Stacheldrahtsonntag' (Barbed-Wire Sunday). Within a few weeks this improvised wire obstacle started to morph into a formi­dable cement one, a heavily fortified, guarded, and booby-trapped barrier dividing the city and enclosing West Berlin.

"The Wall shocked and amazed the world, a massive engineering and security project that before it was built many outsiders had dismissed as impossible. It extended for almost a hundred miles, with thirty or so of it dividing East from West Berlin, the rest sealing off the surround­ing East German countryside. It was overseen by 300 watchtowers, manned by guards with orders to shoot to kill. The 'no man's land' between East and West was littered with lethal obstacles, alarms, and self-activating searchlights, with an eleven-foot-high clamber-proofed slab fence representing the final, on its own near-insuperable obsta­cle. The structure would soon become notorious even in the farthest, darkest corners of the earth as the 'Berlin Wall'."


Frederick Taylor


The Berlin Wall: A World Divided, 1961-1989




Copyright 2006 by Frederick Taylor


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