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Useful Notes / Berlin Wall

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"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."
John F. Kennedy, "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech, 06/26/1963

West Berlin, the western half of the German capital city, was an isolated Western exclave inside what was then considered Eastern Europe. However, technically speaking West Berlin did not belong to West Germany which could be seen by such things as the draft (you could not serve in the German military as a West Berlin resident, even if you wanted to) or federal elections (Berlin sent non-voting delegates to the Bundestag that were appointed by the West-Berlin parliament rather than elected by the people)

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 of tyranny 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

  • 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 meters 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 meters—basically a football field'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.
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  • 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.
  • Two U-Bahn lines and one S-Bahn line operated by the West Berlin transit authority (in the case of the U-Bahn) ran through East Berlin territory, who paid 20 million Deutschmarks a year for this privilege. The stations in GDR territory were mostly (except for Friedrichstraße serving as a border checkpoint) 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,note  but was subject to heavy boycott and was eventually transferred over in 1984.

Famous Wall Locations

  • The Brandenburg Gate (where Reagan made his "Tear Down This Wall" speech)
  • Checkpoint Charlie. The only road crossing point for non-Germans - Charlie being because it was the third crossing. There's been an incredibly tacky museum there since 1962 and nearby a number of street stalls selling GDR memorabilia that are generally reproductions. Location of a stand-off between American and Soviet tanks in the early 1960s.
  • The Glienicke Bridge. Where three spy-swaps took place.
  • Friedrichstraße station, which also served as the border crossing point for long-distance trains crossing from West Berlin and by extension the West. This facility became a positive maze of corridors as people navigated their way between the areas for 'western trains' or transited to the other side for East Berlin or trains further on. The border crossing became known as the Tränenpalast or "Palace of Tears" as it was where Western visitors would say goodbye to those not permitted to cross.
    • The 'Western' side of the platforms also held an Intershop - the East German duty free shops designed to part travellers (and East Germans after 1974 when they were allowed to possess foreign currency) from their hard currency as the East German mark was not accepted, selling higher quality goods than available elsewhere. The Intershop here allowed West Berliners to buy these goods e.g. alcohol and tobacco without going through the border and hop straight back on a train... although West German customs would sometimes conduct checks on the other side.
  • Bernauer Straße - the houses were in the East, but the street itself was in the West. So the GDR authorities literally walled the windows shut. There are dramatic images of people jumping from windows in upper floors into the waiting arms of West-Berliners and rescue workers. Today there's an on-site museum that is much less tacky and much more chilling than that at Checkpoint Charlie

Ways People Tried to Illegally Cross The Wall

  • Going over it. One escape involving a hot air balloon was successful, yet very dangerous. Another attempt featuring a home-made motorized aircraft (using among others a butchered motorcycle) failed; The Stasi got them first. Another time, one of three brothers escaped via a home-made zip-line to join another brother who had swum across the Inner German Border, and they later picked up the third brother with a private plane with fake Soviet colorings from an inner-Berlin city park. To go one better with the last, they filmed their flight and the tape can now be seen at the Checkpoint Charlie Museum.
  • 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 them about 3.5 billion Deutschmarks.

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).

There were also a number of 'spy doors' that the East German intelligence agencies used to sneak operatives into and out of West Berlin - such as at Friedrichstraße station, where the warren of corridors made it easy to get someone around the border checkpoints and onto the platforms for West Berlin trains.

It was finally brought down on 9 November 1989, when an East German minister named Günter Schabowski 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. They even loved them some David Hasselhoff.

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, D.C., next to the Baker Institute at Rice University, and in Seoul, the capital of another country divided in two by a "wall" of sorts, even to this day. There is also a bit of wall in Schengen, Luxembourg, where the treaty establishing open border in most of Europe was signed.

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, e.g. most German Tropers) tend to regard all of this as something of a non-issue (except for how the East is still poorer than the West, but that's little different from the tensions between people from the North of England and the South). Truth be told, before the wall came up differences in Germany were bigger between North and South than East and West and now that more time has passed since its destruction than the time it stood (just twenty eight years), this may well reassert itself in due time.

Finally, the Wall isn't just still in human heads - a biological research project in the early 21st century revealed that the boundaries of the territories of deer herds in the Harz Mountains still followed the line of the "inner German border", which passed through the region, even though no physical trace of the border remained. Also, you can still see the impact of the wall from space. And while the only part of Berlin's transit network to still bear obvious scars of partition is the tramnote , there are still some obvious "holes" in the transport network caused by the former inner-German border only partially addressed by the German Unification Transport Projects that have wrapped up by late 2017.

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 Asterix and the Great Divide was a social commentary on divisions caused by the Berlin Wall.

Fan Fiction

  • The amount of angst/romance/family fanfics about the Berlin Wall between Germany and Prussia in the Axis Powers Hetalia fandom is unsurprising. Most of the fan-stories involving the pairing have at least 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 later became Ascended Fanon through 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 terrorists.
  • In Make a Wish, Harry visits the Berlin Wall's museum and finds out there is a magical section - turns out several Russian wizards put wards on the Wall. When a couple of German Aurors following Harry (who they think is a super-powerful wizard called Mr Black) enter the museum later, the museum guide slightly misleads them over the conversation she had with "Mr Black", and they find a picture with a man that has a strangely blurred face - which leads them to think "Mr Black" may have been there, destroying the Wall along the East Germans.


  • Bornholmer Strasse is the Based on a True Story account of the East German border guard who opened the Wall up on the night of November 9, 1989.
  • 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.
  • Funeral in Berlin involved the titular faked funeral as a ruse to smuggle defecting Soviet intelligence Colonel Stok across the Wall for MI-5. The German gangster and escape maestro Kreutzmann even has a lookalike East German pensioner killed and organizes a fake "relative" in the West to claim the body. Long story short, it was all a Soviet ploy to expose Kreutzmann, and when the coffin is opened in the West, it's him in it - dead - instead of the Colonel.
  • 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 Wall plays a major role in Bridge of Spies, which is about the arrangement of the first prisoner exchange between West and East during the Cold War. The day of the Wall's first construction is depicted (ahistorically shown as being masonry from the start) and an American student is taken prisoner by the East Germans after foolishly trying to rescue his girlfriend. Later the American protagonist makes several crossings of the Wall to negotiate with Soviets and East Germans in East Berlin, and witnesses two people being shot by border guards while trying to cross illegally. The film ends with the actual exchange at the Glienicke Bridge.
  • The otherwise forgettable 1968 comedy The Wicked Dreams of Paula Schultz features a unique method of defection, with the title character, an East German Olympian, pole-vaulting over the Berlin Wall (the existence of the death strip is ignored). In the process, she loses her clothes on the Wall's barbed wire. Yes, it's that kind of movie.
  • The 1985 spy film Gotcha where college student played by Anthony Edwards gets seduced by a mysterious East European woman (Linda Fiorentino) into traveling to East Berlin. His attempt to get back into West Berlin - going through a humiliating body search at Checkpoint Charlie - is one of the funnier moments in the movie:
    Jonathan: Am I in West Berlin now?
    American military guard: You sure are.
    Jonathan (turns towards East Berlin and gives it the finger): FUCK... YOU!!! (smiles at the guard) Good night. (storms off angry)
    American guard: Man, I've been wanting to do that for the last six months.


Live-Action TV

  • The MacGyver (1985) 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 armored 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 two brothers flying a ultralight airplane over the border at night and flying out with their third 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 Same Sky features several trips through Checkpoint Charlie, including one unlucky guy ending up undergoing a cavity search.
  • The German TV series Tannbach - Schicksal eines Dorfes (literally Tannbach - A Village's Fate, but released online in Britain under the English title Lines of Separation) is a historical drama telling the story of a fictionalised version of the village of Mödlareuth, a village on the border between the regions of Bavaria and Thuringia, which was consequently divided by the inner German border and was nicknamed "little Berlin".


  • A picture of the Berlin Wall can be seen on the back cover of George Harrison's Wonderwall Music.
  • Several song examples:
    • "Drowning in Berlin" by The Mobiles
    • The album Stationary Traveller by Camel
    • "Bells of Berlin" by Lone Star (the 1970s UK band of that name)
    • "Berlin" by Marillion
    • "Holidays in the Sun" from Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols by the Sex Pistols
    • "Checkpoint Charlie" by Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul
    • "Over de muur" by Klein Orkest
    • "Raw Deal" and "Dissident Aggressor" by Judas Priest
    • "Die Mauer" by Ebba Grön
    • "Berlin" by Fischer-Z
    • "City Of Night (Berlin)" by Peter Schilling
  • David Bowie's ""Heroes"" is meant to be about two lovers at the Wall.
    • "Subterraneans" from Low is intended as a depiction of life on the eastern side of the Wall. It's a quiet, disturbing piece of music with Word Salad Lyrics.
    • It should be noted that both of these were recorded at the Hansa-by-the-Wall studio, which was (as its name implies) right next to the Wall in West Berlin. "'Heroes'" specifically is directed at Bowie's producer Tony Visconti, who was meeting his mistress after getting off work. The Scare Quotes in the title are intended to be an ironic comment on the whole situation.
  • "Hundred" by The Fray references "what once was the wall separating east and west // Now, they meet amidst the broad daylight"
  • "Right Here, Right Now" by Jesus Jones was inspired by the massive wave of change in the late 80's / early 90's, such as the fall of the Berlin Wall, and includes scenes of the Wall falling in their music video.
  • "Oliver's Army" by Elvis Costello
  • Running Wild's "Evilution" references the Berlin Wall:
    Cries - for one lost nation
    Reaching out against the wall
  • Al Stewart's song "Nostradamus" includes the line "A great wall that divides a city at this time is cast aside". It was of course recorded long before this actually happened... spooky?
  • Famously, in 1989 Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters announced that he would never again perform the band's famous Rock Opera The Wall until the Berlin Wall was torn down. Four months later, the wall fell. In 1990, Waters assembled an all-star line-up, including Cyndi Lauper, Sinéad O'Connor and Van Morrison and performed The Wall on the site of the Wall, between Potsdamer Platz and the Brandenburg Gate.
  • Dancing in Berlin by Berlin:
    East, such a mystery
    West, open history
    You, just a moment flashing by


Video Games

  • The Collector's Edition of World in Conflict came with a piece of the 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 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.

Western Animation

  • 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!"


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