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What Happened to the Berlin Wall During the Cold War

by | Oct 17, 2023 | Cold War Tour Berlin

The Rise of the Berlin Wall

The Berlin Wall, also known as the “Wall of Shame,” was a concrete barrier that divided Berlin from 1961 to 1989. It was constructed by the German Democratic Republic (GDR) under the influence of the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

The primary purpose of the wall was to prevent East Germans from fleeing to West Germany, which was seen as a symbol of freedom and prosperity. Thousands of citizens had been leaving East Germany, causing economic and political problems for the GDR.

The Structure of the Berlin Wall

The Berlin Wall consisted of two parallel walls with a “Death Strip” in between. The Death Strip was a heavily fortified area with fences, watchtowers, and anti-vehicle trenches. It was nearly impossible to cross without being detected and arrested by the border guards.

The wall was made of concrete panels, initially three meters (9.8 feet) high, but its height increased over the years. At some sections, it reached up to four meters (13.1 feet) tall. The top of the wall was lined with a smooth pipe to make it difficult to climb. Additionally, there were guard dogs, tripwires, and other security measures in place to discourage escape attempts.

Life on Either Side of the Wall

The construction of the Berlin Wall had a significant impact on the people of Berlin. Families and friends were separated, and individuals found themselves trapped on one side or the other. The wall became a symbol of the Iron Curtain, dividing the Eastern Bloc from the Western world.

Life in West Berlin continued with relative freedom and prosperity, while life in East Berlin and the rest of East Germany was characterized by strict state control, limited opportunities, and a lack of personal liberties.

Escape Attempts

Despite the tangible risks, many individuals attempted to escape from East Berlin. Some tried to climb over the wall, while others dug tunnels beneath it. There were even instances where people used hot air balloons, improvised zip lines, or posed as diplomats to cross the border.

While some succeeded in their escapes, many were captured and faced severe consequences, including imprisonment or even death. The exact number of successful and failed escape attempts is difficult to determine, but it is estimated that more than 5,000 people managed to escape to West Berlin, while approximately 140 lost their lives in the process.

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

The Berlin Wall stood as a physical and ideological divide for nearly three decades. However, as the Cold War began to thaw in the late 1980s, the pressure to open the border grew.

On November 9, 1989, a series of events led to the fall of the Berlin Wall. The East German government announced that citizens would be allowed to cross freely into West Germany. Thousands of East Germans flocked to the wall, demanding border control relaxation. Overwhelmed and underprepared, the border guards eventually opened the gates, allowing the free passage between East and West Berlin.

The Aftermath

The fall of the Berlin Wall was a pivotal moment in history and marked the beginning of the end of the Cold War. Germany was reunited, and the wall became a symbol of the reunification process and the victory of freedom over oppression.

Today, remnants of the Berlin Wall can still be found as a reminder of the city’s turbulent past. The East Side Gallery, a section of the wall covered in murals, stands as a powerful symbol of unity and artistic expression.

Key Takeaways

  • The Berlin Wall was constructed to prevent East Germans from fleeing to West Germany.
  • It consisted of two parallel walls with a heavily fortified area known as the Death Strip in between.
  • Life on either side of the wall was drastically different, with West Berlin representing freedom and prosperity, while East Berlin experienced strict state control.
  • Escape attempts were made, but many individuals faced severe consequences.
  • The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 marked the beginning of the end of the Cold War.

Recommended Resources

If you’re interested in learning more about the Berlin Wall and the Cold War, here are some recommended resources:

  1. Book: “The Berlin Wall: A World Divided, 1961-1989” by Frederick Taylor
  2. Documentary: “The Berlin Wall” by National Geographic
  3. Website: Visit the official website of the Berlin Wall Memorial for historical information and exhibits.

What Happened to the Berlin Wall During the Cold War