Berlin Wall Essay
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The Berlin wall caused much strife during its existence. It started with the conflict between the USSR and the Allies and quickly escalated from there. The long years it stood were full of separation and conflict. The story of the Berlin wall is not one easily forgotten.
During WWII the Soviet army captured the German city of Berlin. The U.S., Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union all occupied a sector of Berlin. The United States, Britain, and France occupied sectors in West German and Berlin while the Soviet Union occupied the East.
Because of this, when the Cold War started, East and West Berlin were divided both in opinion and territory.
The Soviets were communist and the leaders of West Germany were determined that all of Germany should be communistic. The Soviets tried to force the Western powers to give up their control over their three sectors. After their attempts to convince them to give up their control failed, the Soviet side cut West Berlin, which was isolated in the middle of East Germany, from all land and air travel.
West Berlin was frozen and starving, but they refused to give in.
The Western Allies started what is commonly known as the Berlin Airlift. Great amounts of food and supplies were dropped by plane. West Berlin was not given up by the Allies. East Germany however, did give up the blockade of West Berlin after a year. They determined that something else must be done.
East Berlin lost many people to West Berlin. It was said approximately two and a half million people escaped the communistic East Germany simply by crossing the border from East Berlin into the West. A common method of this escape was by subway. At one station they believed that one out of every three people leaving the station was actually an escaping citizen of East Germany. East Germany was rapidly losing its much needed work force.
Walter Ulbricht was the man most blamed for the building of the Berlin Wall. In public, he denied all rumors of even the consideration of cutting off the border routes. The denial of the idea of closing the border was a plan to keep the flow of people escaping from increasing before the wall was built. Ulbricht believed that people would desperately flee as soon as they heard of the plans for the wall.
On a Saturday night in 1961, the wall was hastily built. Since it was the weekend, the unsuspecting people were vacationing after their week of long work and did not notice the hidden rolls of barbwire and timber slashed away where the wall was to be built. People whose houses stood where the separation was were no longer allowed to use their Western doors. Many used the windows to escape but others were caught by the East police or lost their lives in the process. By the end of the first couple weeks, the windows and doors were sealed off with bricks.
The Berlin was more than a sliver of grey concrete. It was watchtowers, guards, guns, barbed wire, and even mines. As determined as many East Berliners were to cross to freedom, they had to risk so much in the process. For many, the risk led to their deaths.
The wall was disapproved of by many of the citizens. Because of the sudden construction, many families were instantly separated. The dangers sometimes outweighed the thought of unification. Wanting to at the very least see their loved ones, platforms were built on the West side of the wall and families would find some comfort in mere glimpses of their loved ones.
Another negativity of the wall was the sheer conflict of beliefs. Some who did not share the opinions of Germany were quickly forced in a problematic situation. They couldn’t escape from the strict rules of communism. The wall had clearly put them on the wrong side.
Family and beliefs were not the only things the wall separated. Though not physically, the Berlin wall drew a line right through Germany. You were either East German or you were West German. There were no in between grey sections. People had to choose sides or their side was chosen for them. Of course, through all this, France, Britain, and the United States stood beside their West German sectors. Tension of the cold was thick. Many showed what side they were on by simply choosing to support East or West Germany. Those who supported the East were Communistic. Those who supported West Germany were supporters of democracy of freedom.
The problems within East Germany became more and more obvious as time went on. The most obvious problem was the existence of the wall itself. Many died from the wall and it wasn’t just the start. The problems of East Germany were from social to economic.
At first, it was very possible to make it across the wall. People would break through with trucks, dig tunnels, fight their way across, sneak across during construction, forge papers, and all manner of escape. People didn’t let the risk of death keep them from their freedoms and families. Not everyone was lucky enough to make it across.
One example of misfortune was a pair of young men who determined to sneak across a weak part of the wall. The first made it successfully across, but his friend did not. Shot by the guards, the young man lay injured and bleeding at the wall. Still on the East side, people from the West could not retrieve the dying young man. The guards waited for him to bleed out before disposing of his body. His screams and cries for help haunted and outraged the people. Fearing a future uprising, the guards were commanded to move bodies and dying individuals out of sight so the people wouldn’t be quite as disturbed by their deaths.
After many made it across the Berlin wall, it was decided to reinforce the wall. This reinforcement crushed many people’s hope of ever crossing and killed many of those that retained their hope. The wall at first had been simply a tall concrete wall with armed watchtowers, searchlights, and barbed wire. The reinforcement included a higher fence with a column of concrete that was seemingly impossible to grip, extra fences, tripwires connected to automatic machine guns, and a seemingly hopeless run to safety. Forged papers at the gates were the most likely means of escape after the reinforcement.
In East Germany, the work hours were long, the opportunities were few, the tension was high, and the rules were strict. Music was censored and lives were limited. East Germans created a distinct culture because they had to avoid breaking so many rules. You watched what you said and who you were with.
Rules in East Germany were not taken lightly because the people never knew when they were being watched. The neighbors, their best friend, their lover, or even their mother could’ve been one of them; one of the agents for Germany’s secret police, that is. The secret police were called Stasi. Anyone could be suspected of being part of the Stasi, since the Stasi used anyone they could.
The Stasi was a huge network of agents who watched over East Germany. They had their eyes on over one-third of the population. The Stasi spied on, arrested, and manipulated countless people. They picked up on plans of escape, wormed their way into possible rebellion for information, and even kept records of their target’s lives in incredible detail. Along with the suspicious activity they stored in the files pertaining to the lives of their targets, they included elaborate plans for their victims. These plans interfered with lives, ruined marriages, kept certain kids from getting into universities, and even destroyed futures. They didn’t stand for any possible uprising. They snuffed out any spark that could lead to anything contradictory to East Germany’s policies.
Pollution was a major problem in East Germany. Their pollution was actually so great that it actually caused diseases not seen since Victorian ages. The diseases killed many of the people. People started environmental programs to try and do something about the pollution and stop the tragedy of diseases.
A bit of freedom was the beginning of change and the start of hope in East Germany. The rules were loosened on churches across the land. Slowly but surely the church became the centers of protest across the land. People came to meetings with the accepted excuse of praying for the country or involvement at environmental programs at the church. The church quietly became the center of reformists.
Because of the hope sprouted by the reformist church meetings, a protest of seventy-thousand people occurred openly in East Germany. The world watched in tense concern. Many feared that East German officials would use the “China option” where they would simply massacre the protestors like what had recently occurred in China. The world was shocked when there seemed to be no immediate consequences for the massive protest.
The opening of the Berlin wall was a great event and actually an accident. After many years of separation and conflict, one man’s misunderstood words caused the great event. While an East German bureaucrat, Günter Schabowski, was at a press conference on November 9th, 1989, his uncertain answer to a simple question was misunderstood. The misunderstanding was that travel restrictions were being lifted and effective immediately. People flooded to the gates of the wall demanding access they believed was granted by one man who simply misspoke. These people could not be turned away though what Schabowski had said was far greater than what the authorities had intended to do.
For hours, the gates remained closed and the guards were hammered by questions and demands from the eager citizens. The guards tried to get an order from the higher ups, but at the time the whole system of authority was in chaos and disorder. No one seemed to know what to do. Finally, at about 11:30 that night, after countless meetings and useless phone calls, the order went out to open the gates. This order was given by Lieutenant-Colonel Harald Jäger, the senior officer in charge at the Bornholmer Strasse border crossing. When he gave the order, people flooded through the gates and climbed the walls.
Harald Jäger later gave his report of what had occurred that night. It was apparent to all of the guards that something was amiss and that people would soon show up trying to pass through the gates as they watched the press conference. They were all surprised at the words spoken at the press conference but did not understand the enormity of the consequences that were to come. He said, “All I thought was: Now you’ve got to find out whether they’re allowed to travel immediately or not.”
He called his higher up to ask, but it was apparent that he was just as surprised and simply ordered him not to let anyone through. Harald apparently held countless meetings with his officers all that afternoon. Everyone demanded that he tell them what to do. Fearing the consequences of letting them through and wanting to know if the men would support his decision, he had asked if they should open fire on the people. When the guards objected he knew what he must do. The people were bound to get hurt in a scuffle if he waited too long so he reached his decision. “… I gave my people the order: Open the barrier!”
The destruction of the wall was almost immediate. The world watched in awe as the socialistic experiment on East Germany quickly crumbled as the East and West citizens of Germany united in joy and merriment. The opening of the wall was well received by the West. That very night, they made their way over the wall to join and rejoice with their Eastern brethren. Even the Chancellor of West Germany called the current President of the U.S., George H. W. Bush, and ecstatically relayed the events of the night.
They knew Germany would never be the same. Despite all the official government problems with the occasion of the wall falling, the East and West strove to be together again. After forty years of that cursed wall, the people finally had their chance to tear it down. They gladly took that chance. The people of the White House shared the Chancellor’s enthusiasm and encouraged the President to go to Germany. The President refused to take any credit in the happening, “This is the German moment.”
The people of Germany jumped at their chance to seize freedom and unity. They feared they would lose the opportunity as abruptly as it came. Germans wanted freedom to decide their own fate. They wanted the freedom to see their loved ones and choose who they wanted to lead them. They wanted to be a whole nation again. As joyous as the world was at the fall of the wall, many feared what was to come. How would the world take it? What would it lead to? How was the Soviet Union going to handle this? The very symbol of socialism had fallen by the hand of its own people. Was this reunion of sides going to be allowed? Or would there be a violent backlash? Leaders and the world watched anxiously. There were so many consequences that could occur, but everyone simply wondered whether they would be positive or negative.
Mikhail Gorbachev was a name well known among the USSR. He was the man who was trying to reform the Soviet Union from the inside. He was trying to make a stronger, greater Soviet Union, but even his supporters in the Soviet began to think he had taken it too far with the opening of the wall. It had never been his intention to open the wall, but it had happened on his watch. Everyone feared that this would somehow end up in violence.
A man by the name of Helmut Kohl, the Chancellor of Germany, saw this even at the opportunity to reunite Germany. Many called his idea premature and the very idea made people uneasy. The concept of having a reunified strong Germany struck concern into Germany’s neighbors and nations around the world and Europe. People feared another German attack and the change that could take place. As much as the concept of reunification was feared, it turned out that it was actually out of the European leaders’ hands and in the people’s.
The people of Germany started the ball rolling on the reunification of Germany. Within the first day of the fall of the wall, over one million East Germans made their way to West Berlin and within the first week over nine million had done the same. It was almost a large party. The mood was full of celebration. They were even given a welcome gift as they came. People went to shop and to drink and simply enjoy the fact that they were now on the other side of the wall and the gates were open.
It became extremely obvious to the East Germans that personal freedom meant that they had the option of doing whatever they desired to do. They could lose their job, try to find a new one, follow their dreams, and they all had to change. The economy of East Germany couldn’t avoid a drastic change. It was unstable, but the Germans determined that they were going to do what they wanted.
Though it was roughly known that the German Chancellor Helmut Kohl desired a reunified Germany, he had not officially stated any means of doing so. Upon hearing that others were already beginning to discuss their own plans for East and West Germany, the Chancellor felt that he should hold a speech that stated his views and display his plan for reunification. The plan was supposed to take about five to seven years to complete and had been carefully crafted within his group of trusted advisors.
Helmut Kohl had not consulted with his allies before holding his bold speech for the entire world to hear. Had he done so, he believed the speech would have never been made. Thought his speech had been a gamble, it was one that paid off. Because of it, he was personally identified with reunification of Germany. The United States decided to fully support Kohl’s plan for reunification. The only problem now lay in convincing the leaders of France and Britain that a reunified Germany would be beneficial to Europe.
While world leaders struggled to decide what was to be done and what Germany was to become, the people of Germany had gathered their own to plan their new land. They continued to daily tear down more and more of the ugly wall that had so long separated them. The people didn’t want a Germany that was simply a larger West Germany, but a completely new Germany that took both the best of the West and the East. The people planned on taking this into their own hands and becoming a form of Democracy. The group who were planning such an event was a group called the Round Table. Among one of the first things they strove for was and open election in East Germany, something that hadn’t been done in over sixty years.
Of course, not everything would turn out right. One major cause of concern was when the Round Table had received a report that things were turning violent. An angry mob was reported storming the East German secret police’s, the Stasi’s headquarters. They feared that many were about to be lynched, but to their surprise, the mob simply stormed the headquarters and no violence actually seemed to occur. They now found themselves surrounded by mass amounts of information, years of spying and reports written about them. They had overthrown the Stasi.
In March of 1990, East Germany held their first election in over sixty years. Many were torn between voting for the conservative West German runners since they had the money to pull them out of their bad economy and the Democratic candidates of the East that had pulled them out of their situation in the first place. As time when on, many began to realize that the people were pushing for materialism over all other things. The feeling of revolution was quickly dying out as they voted for those they believed would grant them prosperity. It was all too obvious that a new Germany was no longer desired. The East simply wanted to be like the West. The majority of the elected officials were rich conservative Westerners and only a handful of reformists.
A major problem with the gradual reunification was the horrid, polluted economical state of East Germany. It dawned on many Westerners that they would have to pay a lot of the price for the East German pollution problems. It was estimated that as the lifelong security of jobs guaranteed by the strict East Germany was destroyed that almost every two out of three jobs were lost by East Germans. They abruptly had to face the reality of joblessness and strive to succeed in other places.
Despite the hardships, Germany was indeed being unified. One of the symbols of reunification was when the leaders of France, Germany, the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union gathered to watch the removal of checkpoint Charlie, one of the focal points of the Cold War. The Soviets were facing the reality that their East German socialist empire was quickly meeting its end. The last thing blocking German unification was Soviet permission for Germany to join North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). When this was surprisingly overcome, there was nothing standing in the way. On October 1st, 1990, the four victorious powers formally gave up their rights to Germany.
Germany was now free to do as they chose. Less than a year after the fall of the Berlin Wall on October 3rd, 1990, Germany became one nation. Mikhail Gorbachev was forced to resign and blamed for the fall of the Soviet empire who suffered a great loss when Gorbachev chose to give up Germany. Despite this, he believed he had done the right thing in the end. The leaders involved in the reunification of Germany all seemed to stand by their decisions that it was right to let Germany choose who it was going to be. The Cold War had peacefully ended.
The people of East Germany were now free and unified. They were free to enjoy music, free to see their families, free to choose their own jobs, free to say what they wanted, and free from fear of the Stasi. East and West Germany ceased to exist, and though there is still a distinction between the people, they grow more and more unified as time passes on. Parts of the wall still stand, but people now simply see it as a reminder of what had been and a way to urge themselves to look to a greater future.