Useful Notes: Berlin Wall
"There are many people in the world who really don't understand, or say they don't, what is the great issue between the free world and the Communist world. Let them come to Berlin."
"Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"
On 13 August 1961, upset at the numbers of people who were leaving the GDR via Berlin
, the East German regime decided to stop it. By building a wall separating the two halves of the city. Often cited as the most powerful evidence that Communism Is Evil
— other countries build walls to keep people out
; communists build walls to keep people in
Facts About The Wall
Famous Wall Locations
- ⅓ of the "wall" wasn't actually a wall at all, but barbed wire (found mostly in the rural areas surrounding West Berlin). The wall inside Berlin proper evolved from barbed wire and brickwork to specially-designed L-shaped concrete elements; hard to scale, and if you were to ram a vehicle into it the L-shape would make it topple forward, catching the vehicle on the lower bar.
- A major upgrade was planned for the wall, but wasn't implemented by the time it fell.
- There were two "Berlin Walls", one next to the border (the one the West saw) and one about 100 metres further back (the one the East Berliners or visitors to the GDR saw). The void between the two walls (usually empty if you discount the tripwires, with a raked dirt surface to make footprints easy to spot) was referred to as "the death strip", as the border guards had instructions to shoot on sight. So escapees had not just one wall to get through, but 100 metres—basically a football pitch's worth!—of empty space to traverse, before having to climb/get through another wall.
- It's claimed that more than 200 people were killed trying to cross the wall from East to West (a research project in 2005 placed the number at 136, including 8 guards and 3 suicides after failed escape attempts, but not including 16 cases of drowning which are definitely connected to the Wall.). The overwhelming majority of victims were men aged 20-29. In one particularly infamous case in 1962, Peter Fechter was shot just short of the Western side of wall and fell back into "no man's land" between the two walls. The East Germans stood there and did nothing as the guy bled to death, with those on the Western side only able to provide ineffectual assistance by throwing first aid stuff at him.
- The Western Wall wasn't on the actual border between the two countries, but at least a couple of meters inside East Germany. And quite a bit more than that in some locations, which led to a rather amusing incident involving 200 punks going from West to East when it was partly rectified. This is why the Western Wall got covered in graffiti- the West Berlin police couldn't do a thing about it and the East Germans eventually gave up painting it over (in most cases).
- The East Side Gallery (one of the few remaining stretches of the wall left) is actually part of the Eastern Wall- all the paintings there were added after the fall of the wall.
- The Berlin Wall became just a part of what came to be called the "inner German border", which was a wall that separated the entire nation of East Germany from West Germany and was part of the Iron Curtain. A series of 3-4 meter (12-15 foot) high metal fences, walls, armed guards, guard dogs, barbed wire, electric alarms, trenches, watchtowers, automatic guns and minefields. The Berlin Wall, which separated East and West Berlin, was the most famous part of the system but formed less than a tenth of the whole - it omitted the automatic gun and minefields part because it would be spectacularly bad publicity for the GDR for someone to get killed like that in a major city.
- West Berliners had limited visiting rights to those living in East Berlin, but not vice versa of course. One exception were pensioners, who were allowed to visit relatives in West Berlin for up to 4 weeks a year. This was because the wall was intended to prevent the workforce from leaving. It was also possible to obtain a special permit to visit West Berlin, but this was rarely granted.
- 2 U-Bahn lines and a S-bahn line operated by the West Berlin transit authority ran through East Berlin territory, who paid DM 20 million a year for this priviliege. The stations in GDR territory were mostly (except for Friedrichstraße) closed to passengers, becoming 'ghost stations', fairly dimly lit, sealed off at street level and patrolled by the Border Troops. Until they were reopened in 1989/1990, the stations remained pretty much unchanged, down to the adverts on the walls.
- As the lines were in East Germany, maintenance was understandably difficult. If a train broke down (which became increasingly frequent), the passengers would have to wait for the border police to get them out.
- The S-Bahn in West Berlin was operated by the East Berlin authorities, but was subject to heavy boycott and was eventually transferred over in 1984.
Ways People Tried to Illegally Cross The Wall Wall
- The Brandenburg Gate (where Reagan made his "Tear Down This Wall" speech)
- Checkpoint Charlie. The only crossing point for non-Germans - Charlie being because it was the third crossing. There's a museum there now. Location of a stand-off between American and Soviet tanks in the early 1960s.
- The Glienicke Bridge. Where three spy-swaps took place.
- Going over it. One escape involving a hot air balloon was successful, yet very dangerous. Another attempt featuring a home-made motorised aircraft (using i.e. a butchered motorcycle) failed; the StaSi got them first. Another time, a brother of three escaped via a home-made zip-line, and later picked up his brothers with a private plane with fake Soviet colourings from an inner-Berlin city park.
- Going through the actual wall. One such (successful) attempt used a train, after which the East-Germans promptly ripped up those tracks that the Wall had been simply built over.
- Traversing via the "diplomatic trunk"- in the trunk of a diplomat's car. Or being just smuggled out.
- Going under it via tunnels, quite often existing ones like U-bahn (subway) tunnels and sewer mains. An NBC reporter blundered into one such effort. The network paid for the construction, provided they got an exclusive on it. The attempt was successful.
- On one occasion, a West Berliner studying in East Berlin rented an absurdly low sports car, placed his East Berliner girlfriend in the trunk and drove straight through a checkpoint, the car being so low the barriers didn't stop him. The guards were so surprised they didn't fire a shot. A metal beam was placed at checkpoints to prevent this. However, this too was circumvented when a group of four escaped in a modified car, such that when the car made contact with the beam, the roof and windscreen simply came clean off. So long as they lay flat in the car, they could drive right through. Once again, the East Germans built zig-zagging roads to put a stop to this method.
- On another, a group of East Berliners charged Checkpoint Charlie with a large truck. The truck, a flatbed, was piled high with (empty) propane canisters on the assumption that the border guards wouldn't shoot at a truckload of propane, especially in a densely crowded urban area. Several people hid and rode to the West in the hollow center of the propane-tank pile.
- One way in which several escaped was by getting a job as a Border Guard and then deserting, either by boarding U-and-S Bahn trains in deserted stations or the rather simpler expedient of running up to the barbed wire barrier and jumping over it.
Another (legal-ish) way was Bonn actually paying East Germany to allow them to leave; this allowed the GDR to get much needed hard currency and to get rid of troublesome dissidents. This actually made about them about 3.5 billion
West Germany encouraged this, as their constitution said that
those East Germans who reached the West automatically gained West German citizenship
there was only one German citizenship, so citizens of East Germany automatically were citizens of West Germany, with all the rights and benefits that came with that. There are also a couple of cases of West Berliners, sometimes actual police officers, providing covering fire for Wall-runners (in one case, a GDR soldier was actually killed. In 1999, the West Berlin officer responsible got a one-year suspended sentence).
It was finally brought down on 9 November 1989, when an East German minister got confused in a press conference and announced new regulations that weren't supposed to take effect until the following day and would allow people through with exit visas. Thousands turned up at the border crossings and surprised Border Troops soldiers, finding no-one willing to use lethal force on unarmed demonstrators, let them through. The party was huge.
Bits of it ended up all over the world, including at Ronald Reagan
's Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California
, Gerald Ford
's Presidential Library (we're asking the same question) in Grand Rapids, Michigan
, the gardens of UN Headquarters in New York City, the Newseum in Washington, DC
, and in Seoul, the capital of another
country divided in two by a "wall" of sorts, even to this day.
Since the wall collapsed, Germany has been having a problem with "The Wall in people's heads" (die Mauer im Kopf
). This invisible wall consists in the whole Ossi-Wessi thing (a difference of attitudes), a disparity in living conditions (Ossis still have the economic short end of the stick, although things are rather better than they were twenty years ago), and politics in the GDR has developed a tendency towards extremes (the far-right has gotten itself a base...as has the far left, in the form of the Left Party, which ironically is the direct descendant of the Socialist Unity Party that ran East Germany
...). On the other hand, people born since about 1985 (i.e. those too young to remember the wall, i.e. most German Tropers) tend to regard all of this as something of a non-issue.
The Wall in fiction:
Anime and Manga
- In Cyborg 009, a young truck driver and his girlfriend tried to go through the Berlin Wall and run away to West Germany. They were discovered, and the guards shot at them: the truck blew up, the girl died and the badly-injured man was taken away by a group of Mad Scientists who rebuild the driver — Albert Heinrich — as Cyborg 004.
- An episode of Lupin III (Red Jacket) involved a hang glider escape over the Wall.
- Aquarion Evol features a massive wall named after it which separates the male and female sides of Neo DEAVA Academy.
- In the opening credits of the Patlabor TV series, we see military Labors (mechas) with Bundeswehr insignia standing guard at the Berlin Wall.
- Spider-Man versus Wolverine
- Mortadelo y Filemón managed to cross it twice in In Germany (from East to West because they stink so much the guards can't stand them, and from West to East by going really fast on a car), which Ibáñez wrote for the comic's German fans.
- Albert Uderzo has stated that Astérix and the Great Divide was a social commentary on divisions caused by the Berlin Wall.
- The amount of angst/romance/family fics about the Berlin Wall between Germany and Prussia in Axis Powers Hetalia is unsurprising. Most of the fan-stories involving the pairing have atleast some portion of it, or a reference to, the Berlin Wall.
- This is based on the popular fanon assumption that Prussia becomes East Germany after World War II... which was later confirmed by Word of Himaruya. He stated that Prussia was smaller than Germany to from malnutrition to represent the economic differences between the West and East, also said that Prussia was "stuck doing menial jobs under Russia's thumb after World War II, and made allusions to the Östalgie — represented by Russia inviting himself to Prussia's place when he's in Östalgie-ful moods.
- Briefly visited in chapter 3: of The Conversion Bureau: Cold War, where an American patrol squad in West Germany gets ambushed by PER terrorist.
- Good Bye, Lenin!: The protagonist's mom was a fervently patriotic East German, who fell in a coma after her son was taken away by the East German police in a protest rally. By the time she wakes up, the Wall has already been torn down and East Germany is no more. What's more is that the doctors say that a shock will kill her so her son goes to great lengths to hide the fact.
- James Bond
- In Casino Royale (1967), it's secretly a spy training facility that looks like a set from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, run by a Baroness type and an excitable dwarf who runs on batteries. It's that kind of movie.
- It appears in Octopussy. They filmed it on location too, albeit with West Berlin passing as East Berlin. They had to remove graffiti from the wall to create the illusion that they were on the other side.
- A person is shot dead in Funeral in Berlin as MI-5 tries to smuggle a defected Russian scientist from East to West. Coincidentally the plan involves a hearse; the Israelis (who are after the scientist as well, who is said to be a Nazi war criminal) are a tad miffed when the delivered body is the man in the West who arranged the transport, instead of the scientist.
- Hedwig and the Angry Inch
- Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire
- "Der Tunnel", about the NBC-supported tunnel escape.
- In the 1982 film The Soldier, some renegade KGB agents set up a nuclear weapon in the Saudi oil fields, which would contaminate them and render the oil useless, and will detonate the bomb unless Israel removes its settlements from the west bank. The US is going to have to force the Israelis. The title character, an American agent, decides to Take a Third Option. His team captures a US missile silo in Smith Center, Kansas, and obtains independent launch capability. He and a female Israeli agent then break into East Berlin by launching a car over the wall, confronting the rogue KGB agents and informing them that if their nuke in Saudi Arabia is detonated, his team in Smith Center will nuke Moscow.
- In Spy Game, Brad Pitt's character Bishop is trying to run an agent from East Berlin to West Berlin. He is told at the last moment to dump the agent just before reaching Checkpoint Charlie. Turns out the whole operation was simply an attempt to get a Soviet mole to reveal herself, and the poor agent that Bishop just dumped to his death was simply bait.
- In The Debt, Israeli operatives try to smuggle a Nazi war criminal from East Berlin to West Berlin via an S-Bahn 'ghost station' (Wollankstraße, which in reality was in use, elevated and accessible only from West Berlin). The guy wakes up too early and the guards are alerted.
- The Lives of Others
- The Disney film Night Crossing is a fictionalized version of the hot air balloon escape.
- Its fall is one of the events the titular character in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery watches on tape to drive home just how much he missed in the thirty years he was kept cyogenically frozen, along with the Apollo Program and Liberace turning out to be gay.
- The MacGyver episode "Deathlock" features Mac trying to sneak out of East Berlin (in a coffin) via what looks like it's meant to be the Glienicke bridge. He ends up turning said coffin into a speedboat as the East Germans demonstrate that the Border Troops clearly attended the Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy. As a side note, much of the sequence is actually Stock Footage from Funeral in Berlin, mentioned above.
- A History Channel special once covered the history of the wall and some of the more impressive escape attempts. Among them was a guy who took advantage of the laws in the GDR to drive an armoured vehicle (military vehicles were given right of way on all east german streets) to drive up to the border. Rather than risk the guards at the gates he rammed the wall counting on the vehicles massive weight to make it through.
- Two more cases involved people going WAY over the wall. One family built a homemade hot air balloon and tried to float over the wall, they made it on their second attempt. Another one involved a man flying a ultralight airplane over the border at night and flying out with his brother; in order to avoid getting shot he painted very prominent red stars on the planes wings counting on the guards confusion to avoid death.
- Kind of a meta example, but in The West Wing episode "The Shadow of Two Gunmen" you can see portions of the Wall in the shots of Rosslyn where the President was shot. This is because the scene was actually filmed outside a museum in LA, where the pieces of the wall were being displayed.
- The Wall is mentioned in the 7th season, just before Bartlet is about to walk his daughter Ellie down the aisle: he relates a moving story about when he went on a Congressional delegation to East Germany, bringing his family along. As they were about to pass through Checkpoint Charlie, Ellie (who was 4 or 5 at the time) ran out into the middle of No Mans Land. Watch it here.
- The fall of the Berlin Wall is one of the historical events shown in the opening credits of As Time Goes By.
- A few pieces of it turned up in an episode of Pawn Stars, only for Rick to point out that since the wall was so long, only the parts with well known artwork are actually worth anything.
- The Kraft Suspense Theatre episode "The Easter Breach" is about a young couple attempting to reunite when an escape attempt leaves them trapped on opposite sides of the wall.
- The Collector's Edition of World in Conflict came with a piece of Berlin Wall and a certificate to prove its authenticity.
- And the Soviets' initial offensive at the start of the Alternate History begins when they tear down the wall. With explosives. So their tanks can roll through...
- The Command & Conquer Red Alert 3: Paradox Game Mod has the Berlin Wall as part of its 1969 Cold War era world. The irony? The Allies build it, not the Soviets.
- In Wargame: European Escalation the very first Mission for the 'Brother vs. Brother' campaign has you fighting Border Troops who crossed into West Germany. It isn´t exactly the Berlin Wall, but it is a part of the Inner German Border, complete with death strip and guard Towers, and as a bonus target you can even roll over there with your tanks and destroy an outpost.
- Shows up as a multiplayer map in Call of Duty: Black Ops. Linger too long in no-mans-land, and automated gun turrets will shoot you down, no matter who's team you're on.
- Alvin and the Chipmunks featured an episode about the Wall, with Alvin dreaming about a Chipmunks concert shaking the Wall to its foundation.
- Ironically this came out about a year before the real Wall came down.
- Played for Laughs in The Simpsons: when the Soviet Union announces its intent to re-emerge, the turf in the centre of Berlin rolls away and the Wall pops back up, unscathed. Complete with guards and dogs.
- In Animaniacs, one chapter is about the three Warners' exploits throughout the 20th century. That includes smashing the Wall with a Hyperspace Mallet.
- Histeria, in an episode about the Rise and Fall of Russian Communism, depicted the fall of the Berlin Wall by having Loud Kiddington standing next to the Wall and shouting "BOOM!"