Freedom
The fall of the Berlin Wall began due to one big mistake
The era of great upheavals throughout Eastern Europe brought many changes among the political elite as well
5.21.2020 12:10:54 PM
Source: e-mail
Author: Malcom R
Berlin / Patricia Piolon / flickr.com

The Berlin Wall was torn down due to confusion in communication between politicians. One of the new regulations made it possible, at a time of warming East-West relations, for Germans from East Berlin to obtain visas to travel to West Berlin. In the early evening of that fateful day in November, a historic press conference was held in Berlin. Günter Schabowski, the leader of the Communist Party in East Berlin, gathered journalists to announce a series of reforms to reduce travel restrictions in force at the time. When asked by reporters when the new rules take effect, Günter Schabowski paused, rummaged through the papers in front of him and said rather unprepared, "They take effect ... as far as I know ... now ... now."

It was a mistake.

Berlin
Gavin Stewart / flickr.com


The Politburo did not plan anything like what Schabowski had announced at the time. The idea was to alleviate the growing dissatisfaction of the people by introducing some minimal changes to the visa regime, but the state was to retain the right to ban travel. However, many took Schabowski’s words literally even after the evening news on West German public television, which was popular among East Germans and who had long since ceased to trust their state-controlled media, when the Wall was literally declared open, masses of people they headed for the checkpoints on the Wall and asked to be let go to the other side. The soldiers guarding the Wall initially tried to keep people, but by midnight the wall was flooded with East German citizens, who were opening champagne on it and firing fireworks. No bullets were fired. The Soviets did not appear either. Everything passed peacefully, to the surprise of many who expected everything, because the soldiers were ready for everything. This happened on November 9, 1989, and the unification of Germany took place on November 3, 1990.

West Berlin was a magnet for Easterners
West Berlin was a glittering gem in a sea of gray. East Germany, the GDR, was a socialist republic, one of the military hopes of the Russian "camp," a defense system called the Warsaw Pact. West Berlin was very rich, a city on steroids. East Berlin, the capital of the GDR, was icy and gray. Wall was huge, larger than 3.5 meters. Next to the wall was a space several meters long where various obstacles were placed - hedgehogs, barbed wire and the like. What was most astonishing, however, was that in many places near the wall, on no man's land, were graves. The wall guards, GDR soldiers, had, as film agent 007, a "killing license." Whoever tried to escape from East Germany to the Federal Republic of Germany was free to be killed. Those who experienced it were buried right there, on their "execution site." After checking their identities, over their grave the guards would raise a modest white cross on which they wrote the deceased's name, surname, year of birth and year of murder. And that was it.
These mounds were a warning to anyone contemplating escape. The guards here, as in westerns, literally, first fired, and then asked for the name and surname. It was confirmed that a total of 138 people were killed during the escape on the wall. The graves and the area around them were very neat. In Germany, even death is meticulous. Willy Brandt, the famous Social Democratic Chancellor of West Germany, called the wall the "Wall of Shame". East Germany, the heart of historic Germany, with its historic cities of Dresden, Leipzig, Jena, Weimar, was a wonderful combination of the best and the worst the Germans could give - this small country, with some 20 million people, was one of the first sports in many sports. superpowers of the world. Gymnasts, swimmers, ice skaters, athletes ... they glowed and burned the planet. In football and basketball, they were relatively bad. The country was beautiful but poor. Once the center of respected, precision industries (Karl Zeiss or Lange & Sohne watches were world famous), it was completely destroyed under socialism, for example, they produced Trabant and Wartburg, while West Germany became the world's new industrial power fifteen years after the war.

Berlin
Gavin Stewart / flickr.com


The years 1950 to 1970 in the history of the world economy are known as the "years of the German economic miracle". For a full 20 years, the Germans have been recording growth - they have been able to do so for longer than we have been able to do so. And that mighty rise, clearly, motivated the East Germans to flee. It was a real stampede: the number of citizens fleeing East Germany to West Germany was 187,000 in 1950; 165,000 in 1951; 182 thousand in 1952 and 331,000 in 1953. In the first half of the year alone, 226,000 people fled. One of the reasons for the sudden jump in the number of defectors in 1953 was Stalin's pre-death rampage - the Russian leader died in 1953, but he also started a new series of purges that year. They were massive and creepy. If they were particularly large, like the one in 1938, they would catch millions of people. The purges did not hit the satellite countries, but Stalin was never known.
The East Germans feared a new phase of Sovietization and fled. Until 1952, crossing the border was relatively easy, but large numbers of defectors began to have a fatal effect on German society and the economy. Yuri Andropov, the Soviet leader in charge of relations with communist and workers' parties in socialist countries, wrote on August 28, 1958, about a 50 percent increase in the number of East German intelligentsia among refugees. Andropov reported that a radical change had taken place - while East German fugitives had earlier left for economic reasons, testimonies from new refugees indicated that the reasons were more political than material. He stated that "the escape of the intelligentsia has entered a particularly critical phase".

Berlin
Gavin Stewart / flickr.com


Ulbricht: If this escape continues, the country is falling apart. Moscow has called the situation "unbearable" and obstacles have begun to emerge between the two parts of the country - barbed wire fences and similar "fortifications". The border between the two Berliners, however, remained open, remaining the only one - and as it turned out, the most important transition of the East Germans to freedom. In the first years, the fugitives caught from East to West Berlin were severely punished, but without physical obstacles it was not possible to stop the departure. The city, on the other hand, could not be physically isolated for a long time because that would prevent rail traffic. Thus, Berlin continued to serve as an escape hole. This over time caused a terrible brain drain. East German intellectuals fled to the West, paralyzing the country. The best educated and the most capable left. Engineers, technicians, doctors, teachers ... were decimated.
A recording of a telephone conversation between Nikita Khrushchev and German President Walter Ulbricht on August 1, 1961, shows that Khrushchev took the initiative to build the wall. Some other sources state that Khrushchev was initially cautious in his intentions to build the wall, fearing a negative reaction from the West. But Ulbricht assured him that without this obstacle only the existence of the East German socialist state would come into question. The leaders of the German Democratic Republic and the USSR then agreed to build a wall between the two Berliners to physically prevent the fugitives, and to liquidate those who did not respond by fleeing. Without notice, in 1961, East German soldiers first set up wire barriers that prevented cars from moving between certain areas of the city. At the same time, the soldiers were ordered to shoot at all those who tried to cross into another sector. This barrier was then replaced by a wall and reinforced with minefields. Many families remained forever separated. Construction of the wall began on August 13, 1961. The wall was dubbed "anti-fascist" because East German authorities wanted to emphasize that West Germany was not completely denazified.

Berlin wall
kani-jessy / flickr.com

The young 19-year-old Schumann crashed over obstacles at the corner of Ruppiner Straße and Bernauer Straße while the wall was on its third day of construction. At the time, there was only a low barbed wire fence. West Germans, on the other hand, shouted at him, "Come on!" (“Come!”), And the police car stopped waiting for him. Schumann jumped over a barbed wire fence and was immediately taken to the scene by West Berlin police. West German photographer Peter Leibing photographed Schumann’s escape. His painting became a cult scene from the Cold War. Schumann settled in Bavaria but did not face the fall of the wall - he committed suicide. On August 22, 1961, Udo Siekmann was the first victim of the Berlin Wall. East Germans used the most imaginative ways to escape - some dug long tunnels under the wall, others tried to flee with kites or balloons waiting for favorable winds and hot air for the balloon.
Others, while the wall was under construction, tried to crash into sports cars at full speed over obstacles. The will to freedom was stronger than all obstacles. Nevertheless, the Communists reduced the number of emigrants from the wall from 2.5 million (1949-1962) to 5,000 (1962-1989). Today, only a small part of the wall, visited by millions of tourists, remains. Whoever had the opportunity to take a piece of that strange building, more than 155 kilometers long, did so, so today he have a valuable souvenir, a monument to times that, hopefully, will never return.