The Berlin Wall, a 96-mile-long barrier, was erected in stages around West Berlin in 1961. The East Germany government did not call it a barrier or wall, but the “Anti-Fascist Protective Rampart.” Major portions were rapidly constructed, almost overnight, to prevent the constant seepage of people from the East to the West. It is said that close to 3 million people had leaked out between 1949 and 1961. So, by 1961, the East had had enough and built “The Wall” or “Mauer”, as it’s known in German.
The Wall was actually two walls with a patrolled “no man’s–land” in between. The inner wall (on the East German side) was a four-inch thick by 12’ high concrete fence, supported every 8’ or so by steel I-beams. I suppose this type of construction was used so that great lengths of the inner wall could be erected with little effort. Simply install the I-beams in the ground, as posts, and drop the heavy pre-fabricated concrete panel in between.
The outer Wall (located on the West Berlin border) was more substantial. Still constructed of pre-fabricated concrete, this Wall was 12-feet high, about 6” wide, and had a rounded concrete pipe-like top casing to discourage grappling hooks, ladders, and like.
In between these two walls was a “no man’s-land” ranging in distance from 30’ to 150’. This “no man’s-land” was devoid of vegetation, contained a patrol road, lighted by high powered street lamps, and watched over by more than 100 sentry towers containing armed patrol sharp shooters. Additionally, there were hidden trip wires and invisible silent-alarm barriers designed to alert the guards of any movement with the “no man’s-land.” In the photo below, the wooden cross marks a spot in the former “no mans-land” where a victim was shot and killed by East German border guards.
The intact portion of the Wall stretches for four of five blocks along Bernauer Strasse from the Nordbahnhof Station. As with everything else in Berlin, the Wall Memorial is under construction and some portions of the outside exhibits are not complete. However, there was enough signage, placards, and photos to hold my interest for three hours along this stretch of the Wall. One of the outdoor exhibits contained photographs of the 136 people who were killed at the Wall while trying to escape.
During the Wall’s 28 years, it is documented that border guards fired 1,693 times and made 3,221 arrests. There were 5,043 documented successful escapes. About 10% of these escapes were East German border guards sneaking off to the West.
Visiting this site gave me a “hands-on” understand of just what this Cold War and Socialist division between East and West was all about. It was not until I walked the Wall, surveyed the city-scape on either side, and read accounts of “life behind the Wall” that I fully realized what the horror of being “fenced in” must really be like.
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