Those of you born after 1989 may find the hard to believe but the in the post war era, during the so called Cold War, the ‘Two Tribes’ of Communism and Capitalism faced off against each other for decades. Much of this time we lived under the fear of nuclear war between the super power blocks.
The greatest symbol of this Cold War was the Berlin Wall – a 140 kms long wall that was built in 1961 by the Soviet backed East German Government to stop the exodus of East Germans to the Western sector. There is a long history to the wall – including the killing of people trying to cross the ‘killing zone’ between the two walls to escape to the west.
There are many and complex reasons behind the fall of the Wall as the Soviet block lost power – this was partly driven by the crude oil glut in the 1980s and the subsequent drop in the global oil price and partly by political leadership from Gorbachev and his policies of glasnost (“openness”) and perestroika (“restructuring”).
There was also Western pressure including from Ronald Reagan when he was US President but also from more unlikely sources like David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen and David Hasselhoff! There is much debate about how much influence these interventions had.
Finally, as the Soviet block weakened, Hungry and Czechoslovakia opened their borders thousands of East Germans where able to escape to the west. This put yet more internal pressure on the East German Government.
The wall finally was pulled down in November 1989 when people power took over and the East German Government collapsed. In the end it came about very suddenly an East German news broadcast stated:
“This 9 November is a historic day. The GDR has announced that, starting immediately, its borders are open to everyone. The gates in the Wall stand open wide”.
Seemingly this was a misinterpretation as it was meant to be an announcement until the next day. There wasn’t time to tell the guards on the Wall what was happening so when the people of East Berlin took to the Wall and walked to the Gates the guards didn’t know what to do. With no orders to shoot – or not to shoot – the guards didn’t act and the Wall was breached and then slowly torn down. Those of you too young to remember 1989 may not realise what a time it was – there was student protest in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China and then their brutal repression on the 4th and 5th June that year this was followed by the fall of the Berlin Wall and then, in 1991, the collapse of the USSR.
The re-unified Germany has found great ways to remember this past but also to move on. Most of the Wall has been removed – but its route is marked in the roads (see the picture of the cobles in the road – this is a section near the Brandenburg Gate). Every now and again the line is marked “Berliner Mauer 1961-1989”. Then, in three or four places, sections of the wall are left standing. The photographs here are of the section adjacent the Topography of Terror on located on Niederkirchnerstrasse, formerly Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse, on the site of buildings which from 1933 to 1945 were the headquarters of the Nazi Gestapo and the SS.
I have perhaps given the impression that in these blogs that Berlin is solely about terrible histories – whilst there is no doubt the city been at the centre of much of the darker side of Europe’s turbulent 20th Century history there is also much more to see in the city – the Museums are fantastic – the five on Museum Island are a World Heritage site plus there is the Bauhaus Museum – I’d recommend the Museumspass Berlin which gets you into 35 museums around the city!
As you may have seen in my Tenerife Blog I’m an Alexander Von Humbodt van – there is a great statue of him and his brother outside the Humbodt University.
Basically visit Berlin. It’s a fantastic City!