History – the fall of the Berlin Wall

On 6 November 2014 46 U3A members attended this meeting to hear Roger Moorhouse, an historian, researcher and author with an interest in Nazi Germany, the Holocaust and WWII in Europe, provide a fascinating history of the Berlin Wall from its origins and construction in 1961 to its fall in 1989.

He described the background to its erection. East Germans had flocked out of DDR after its creation in 1949 and although restrictions were put in place and barbed wire fences were laid, the movement of people, particularly of educated and skilled workers was creating problems for the economy.
Construction of the wall began in 1961. The East German government claimed that the Wall was an “anti-fascist protective rampart”. Many families were split, while East Berliners employed in the West were cut off from their jobs.
The Berlin Wall was more than 87 miles long. In June 1962, a second, parallel fence was built some 110 yds further into East German territory. The houses contained between the fences were demolished, thus establishing what later became known as the Death Strip. The Death Strip was covered with raked sand or gravel, making it easy to detect footprints from trespassers and also allowing officers to see which guards had neglected their task. It offered no cover and importantly, provided clear fields of fire for the wall guards.
100 people suffered violent deaths in their attempts to escape into West Berlin and 36 more died in accidents as they attempted escape from East Germany.
The fall of the wall in 1989 was not planned, but resulted from a mistaken announcement by Günter Schabowski, a Politburo member, that visa controls had been immediately lifted and a resultant surge in attempts by hordes of people to cross into West Berlin. The commander of the Bornholmer Straße border crossing eventually gave in under the pressure and lack of any instructions from his superiors. He allowed the guards to open the checkpoints and let people through with little or no identity checking.
Over the following weeks, the wall was chipped away by jubilant citizens, although official dismantling did not start until mid 1990. Remarkably, Germany was reunified before the end of the year – only 11 months after the opening of the Bornholmer Straße border crossing.