On October 3, Germany celebrates its Unification Day (Tag der
Deutschen Einheit). This day back in 1990 brought a happy and a very
significant event on the world political scene. The symbol of the Cold
War - the Berlin Wall - was torn down, and East Germans could freely face
To have a better understanding of what actually happened in 1990, one
should take a brief trip back into German history, and wind the clock
about half a century ago...
...After the defeat of Germany in WWII (1945), it got under the influence
of four powers - the Soviet Union, the USA, Great Britain and France.
Geographically, Germany and its capital - Berlin - were divided into four
sectors, each dominated by one of the victors. Specifically, the Russians
got almost half of Berlin which from then on was called East Berlin, and
the Allies shared the other half - West Berlin. From 1949 Germany stopped
being a great united power created by Bismarck,
but transformed into two different countries with different aims and ways
of life - West Germany (FRG) with its capital in Bonn, and East Germany
(GDR) with the capital in East Berlin. Needless to say that the economical
and political situation in both Germanys differed dramatically.
While West Berlin took the shape and gloss of the best American cities,
East Berlin became a reflection of Moscow. The Soviet Union put all its
efforts into recovery after the horrible destruction caused by WWII. The
stores could offer but a very scarce choice of products, and ordinary
people were close to poverty in the first post-war decades. The situation
was the same in East Germany. Controlled by the Soviet Union, it presented
a direct opposite to the rich and prosperous West Germany.
As most East Germans had relatives and friends in the western part, they
saw the striking difference in the streets, in the stores, in the houses,
and it was natural that they also wanted to live like their well-to-do
relatives. It was in late 1950s that the mass exodus of East Germans to
West Germany began. A few thousands people left East Germany daily. There
were many qualified specialists and scientists among the refugees. East
Germany couldn't afford such a brain flow. On the other hand, they just
couldn't stop the people! Finally, the problem was solved: on a Sunday
morning of August 13, 1961, the works on the Wall construction began.
The works started under the leadership of Erich Honecker. East Berlin
was blocked off West Berlin by barbed wire, barricades and antitank obstacles.
In a few days the concrete 4-meter wall replaced the temporary barriers.
According to the statistics, the length of the border between West Germany
and East Germany was 166 km, and the Wall stood along this border with
the full length of 107 km. The "wall-less" part of the border
was full of various barriers. East Berliners were not allowed to enter
the Western zone, and vice versa. The border area presented a very severe
and multi-level obstacle:
- the Wall itself which was made up of concrete
segments usually with a concrete tube on top of it;
- illuminated control area (also called death
area), and anyone who got into this area without permission was shot;
- trench preventing vehicles from breaking
- patrol track;
- corridor with watchdogs, watchtowers, and
- the second wall.
About 100 people found their death at the Wall.
To say that the people on both sides of the Wall were surprised, is to
say nothing. They were numb. The feeling of despair added up to the low
economic level and the limited political rights of the East Berliners.
However they did their work and tried to make the best out of their living
behind the Wall.