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 Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!

Ronald Reagan, Speech at the Brandenburg Gate, 06/12/1987

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

  • 1/3 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.
  • 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 buried mines and 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 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. 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 metres 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 metre (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.
  • West Berliners had limited visiting rights to those living in East Berlin, but not vice versa.

Famous Wall Locations

  • 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.

Ways People Tried to Illegally Cross Wall

  • 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.
  • On another, a group of East Berliners chargeded 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.

The West Germans encouraged this, by a law that 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, Gerald Ford's Presidential Library (we're asking the same question), the gardens of UN Headquarters, and 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 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 man was taken away by a group of Mad Scientists who rebuild the driver -- Albert Heinrich -- as Cyborg 004.
  • An episode of the 2nd season of Lupin III 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.

Comics

  • Spider-Man versus Wolverine

Fan Fiction

  • The amount of angst/romance fics about the Berlin Wall between Germany and Prussia in Axis Powers Hetalia is staggering. 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.
      • The assumption was recently 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.

Film

  • Goodbye 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 lenghts to hide the fact.
  • Casino Royale 1967
  • 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.

Literature

Live Action TV

  • 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.
  • 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 fall of the Berlin Wall is one of the historical events shown in the opening credits of As Time Goes By.

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" 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
  • 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?

Video Games

  • 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 and 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.

Western Animation

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