Berlin Wall, from construction to fall

Berlin Wall, from construction to fall

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Built from 1961, the Berlin Wall which separated the German capital for 27 years is the most symbolic evocation of the Cold War, in a world now split in two. The fall of the Berlin wall in the night of November 9 to 10, 1989 causes a wave of enthusiasm and hope in the world and especially in Germany, which can finally hope for a reunification expected since the end of the Second World War.

The Iron Curtain and the Cold War

After the capitulation of May 8, 1945, symbol of the ideological victory of democracy over fascism and Nazism, Berlin was occupied and divided into four occupation zones: The United States, Great Britain and France controlled the west of Berlin, while the USSR controlled the east of the city. When peace returned to Europe, a divide appeared in Europe between the East occupied by the Soviets, and the West close to the United States. A situation denounced in 1946 by Churchill, who evokes an "iron curtain" which fell in Europe. An antagonism which reaches its paroxysm in Germany and in its capital.

In 1949, was created the FRG (Federal Republic of Germany) in the West and the East was controlled by the USSR marked by the creation of the GDR (German Democratic Republic). This date marked the split between two Germanies, the result of the Cold War. Berlin therefore became an enclave within the GDR itself and between 1949 and 1961, the problem arose of the massive flight of its workforce to the western zone with three million citizens of Germany from the 'East passing to the West. It is in this context that the construction of the Berlin Wall is taking shape.

The construction of the Berlin Wall

In a context of "peaceful coexistence", tensions persist and the construction of the Berlin Wall is an integral part of it. On the night of August 12 to 13, 1961, the Soviets decided, to stop the exodus mechanism, to erect a wall between East Berlin and West Berlin and to mass troops at border posts. The exodus was considered to be a real hemorrhage for the Soviet zone. The construction of the wall is therefore conceived in an anti-migration logic of an economic and ideological nature. It was gradually reinforced through several phases, in 1961, it consists mainly of barbed wire with in some places brick walls topped with barbed wire. Only seven ultra-secure crossing points remain.

In 1962, the wall was extended over 15 km in length: barricades were erected over 130 km, 165 watchtowers and 232 blockhouses guarded the borders. In 1976, this 3.60 m high wall was preceded by a 40 m to 1.5 km wide area, which meant that the East Germans could not approach the wall. And in 1989, the authorities in the east prepared the high-tech wall by integrating an electronic surveillance system. However, the populations of the East will decide otherwise.

A symbol of injustice

In the West, the construction of the wall did little to react, at a time when the tension between the Americans and the Soviets was at its height. On June 27, 1963, US President John F. Kennedy traveled to West Berlin. He goes to the Berlin Wall in the company of the very popular Social Democrat, Willy Brandt, future chancellor and Nobel Peace Prize winner. He then gave a speech in which he declared in German: "Ich bin ein Berliner", "I am a Berliner". A famous quote that lets the Soviets and the rest of the world know that the United States will not abandon the divided city.

As for the divided German population, The Berlin Wall quickly becomes a wall of hatred, the wall of the poison that is communism in the minds of East Berliners, and capitalism, in the minds of Berliners in the west. Everyone sees in their group an undeniable common defect: the deprivation of liberty, the disappearance of choice. And day after day, the wall reminds Berliners, but also Germans, of the daily discomfort in which they are plunged. Much more than a city, it is a country that is cut in two. The wall is a prison, it is the concrete reflection of the punishment inflicted on the Germans who followed Hitler, and even on those who did not follow him.

The injustice represented by the wall stirs up the deepest tensions, a daily reminder of separation and defeat, it quickly becomes the engine of hope and freedom. If the wall falls, the separation disappears with it. As the storming of the Bastille was the ultimate symbol of the fall of royal power for the French, the Berlin Wall was the last link in the chain to be destroyed when the country regained independence. The wall and the spirit of its construction, made "behind the back" of the East Germans, raises the question of the feelings of these populations in a situation where they were both actors and spectators.

But even more, the construction of the wall and the events which are attached to it, will clash with public opinion without these events coming to an end. We speak of "wall of shame" for a very precise reason, that of the attempts to cross the Berlin wall which will cost the lives of 80 people, of whom 59 were shot down by the "vopos" (border guards) and 115 others. will be injured by bullets. It is estimated that just under 5,000 people made it from East Berlin to West Berlin. Throughout the decade of the 1960s, the situation remained frozen and it was not until the early 1970s, and the coming to power of the Social Democrats with as leader, Willy Brant, to witness the establishment of a Ostpolitik, which constitutes a policy of openness and detente with communist Europe and with the USSR.

1989, the iron curtain cracks

Since the beginning of 1989, awind of change blowing through Eastern Europe, against a backdrop of glasnost and perestroika from Moscow. Several countries of the communist bloc are seeing the establishment of governments inspired by the Gorbachev example, which more or less timidly initiate a policy of liberalization. With the exception of Romania and East Germany, where the old Stalinist leaders, clinging to their power and privilege, refute any idea of ​​reforming a dying system.

Gorbachev in the GDR (October 1989) "/> Taking advantage of the cracks which cracked the future former communist bloc, tens of thousands of East Germans, in a long procession of" trabants ", tried togo west via Hungary and Czechoslovakia, which have already opened their borders. Inside the country, the protest swells and is organized. In Leipzig in October 1989, demonstrators openly challenge the regime in place, from a church which became the symbol of the struggle for freedom. For the 40's festivitiesth anniversary of the GDR, the Germans march past a pale Erick Honecker and an embarrassed Mikhail Gorbachev at the cry of "Gorby, Gorby!" Gorby help us! ".

A dying East German regime

The Soviet leader unsuccessfully tries to convince Honecker of the need for reform, but nevertheless firmly tells him that armed repression is, whatever happens, to be ruled out. On October 18, Honecker was removed from all his functions at the head of the country by the renovators of the Communist Party, including Egon Krenz and Victor Schabowski, officially for “health reasons”. But now is no longer the time to reform a stalled system. This time, taking to the streets en masse, the East Germans are demandingfree elections pluralistic and the freedom to come and go wherever they want.

Yielding to popular pressure, the East German government is considering releasing ballast on freedom of movement. In a rush, anew travel regulations was announced on November 9 in the early evening by the government spokesperson, during a famous press conference. Victor Schabowski read a press release which states that "private travel abroad may be authorized without presentation of supporting documents, reason for travel or family ties". In response to a question from an incredulous journalist, he even adds that these regulations come into force immediately, while nothing has yet been planned in this regard.

The fall of the Berlin Wall

The announcement sounds like a bomb. The East Germans, who saw this news on TV, must have been pinching themselves there tonight, and are heading towards the border posts to check firsthand if they have not dreamed. After a moment of hesitation, the border guards, who have received no instructions, have no other choice but to lift the barriers in front of this endless stream of curious people. In general jubilation and a concert of horns, Berliners from both sides celebratereunion which they dared not hope for a long time.

The East German government, in the process of decomposition, is briefly tempted to take the situation in hand. The police and the army politely let them know that they cannot, however tempted they feel like it. Overwhelmed and faced with a fait accompli, he has no choice but to let it go. History is on the move, and nothing can stop it. Riveted in front of their stations, viewers from all over the world witness with emotion this extraordinary event which seals thereunion of the German people.

This "wall of shame" in which the East Berliners give the first blows with the pickax becomes a symbol of hope, new-found freedom and peace. For those who watch Rostropovich's impromptu concert in front of a tagged and destroyed piece of the Berlin Wall in wonder, only one thing is certain. After that crazy night of November 9, 1989, nothing will be the same.

On December 22, 1989, the official opening of the Brandenburg Gate reestablished free passage between the two Germanies and underlines the extraordinary liberation that has just been played out around the wall, this symbol of the division of Germany, whose fall was the prelude to the collapse of the communist regime in the GDR and to reunification.

Another world ?

With the fall of the Berlin Wall, it is aworld order inherited from World War II and which seemed frozen for eternity that crumbles. It is the end of a Europe and a country cut in two. Germany undertook its reunification very quickly under the leadership of the government of Helmut Kohl, despite the reluctance of Magaret Thatcher and François Mitterrand, taking advantage of the euphoria of the moment and the passivity of the Soviet Union. With the fall of the wall, a system that explodes and a democratic transition begins, peacefully as in Czechoslovakia, more violently as in Romania, incompletely in Russia. This falling wall poses new challenges for Europe and the world.

Germany celebrated and commemorated in 2014 the 25 years of the fall of the Berlin Wall which marked the end of an era, that of the Cold War but even more, that of the possible reunification of Germany which had been abandoned after WWII. This desire for unification has never ceased to animate the Berlin population, which opens the door to the unification of Germany, divided between FRG and GDR, which took place in 1990.

In order not to forget this period in history, pieces of walls have also been offered to many cities around the world: Paris, Montreal, Buenos Aires ... The side that was located to the east is generally white or containing very few inscriptions, as it was guarded and protected by barbed wire. The side which was to the west is on the contrary mottled with tags, drawings and inscriptions calling for freedom. Even more than its belonging to German history, it is today presented as the symbol of freedom against oppression throughout the world.


- From Daniel Venert, November 1989, the Berlin Wall collapses, Seuil.

- By Alexandre Adler, Berlin November 9, 1989: the fall. Xo Editions, 2009.

- By Michel Meyer, Secret History of the Fall of the Berlin Wall. Editions Odile Jacob, 2009.

For further

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  1. Yaremka

    I think I get to correct the decision. Don't despair.

  2. Meztigami

    I think you admit the mistake. We will consider.

  3. Shanley

    Rather amusing information

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