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BERLIN WALL

2018 saw record number of visitors to Berlin Wall

More than 1.1 million people visited the Berlin Wall in 2018, according to the Berlin Wall Foundation, representing a new record.

2018 saw record number of visitors to Berlin Wall
The East Side Gallery in October 2018. Photo: DPA

“The constantly high attendance proves the uninterrupted interest in the topics of dictatorship and resistance, democracy, bondage and freedom – even in the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall,” Minister of State for Culture and the Media Monika Grütters said in a statement.

Established in 2009, the Berlin Wall Foundation receives approximately €3.6 million per year to maintain the Berlin Wall Memorial, the Marienfelde Memorial, the Günter Litfin Memorial, and, the most recent addition to the foundation, the East Side Gallery.

“The first ten years of the Berlin Wall Foundation are a success story,” Michael Müller, the Mayor of Berlin said in statement. An estimated 8 million people have visited the Foundation’s sites since the 2009.

Located in the center of the city, the Berlin Wall Memorial reveals the physical and political divisions created by the Wall along Bernauer Straße. The Marienfelde Refugee Center Museum is located on the site where East Germans seeking residency in the West completed the emigration process.

Günter Litfin was killed while trying to escape from East Berlin into West, becoming the first fatality of shots fired at the Wall. An old watchtower for German Democratic Republic border troops and memorial commemorates his death and others who died similarly.

The East Side Gallery is the longest open-air gallery in the world. It features both German and international artists who used 1.3 kilometres of the Wall as their canvas.

In November, Germany will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the fall of Wall. Events are planned throughout the year to remember the historic moment.

In the Spring, according to various reports, six sections of the Berlin Wall will be auctioned off in Great Britain. Those sections were formerly part of the Parliament of Trees in Berlin and feature text and illustrations by German artist and environmental activist Ben Wagin.

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BERLIN WALL

‘Wall of Shame’: How the Berlin Wall went up 60 years ago

In the early hours of Sunday, August 13th, 1961, communist East Germany's authorities began building the Berlin Wall, cutting the city in two and plugging the last remaining gap in the Iron Curtain.

'Wall of Shame': How the Berlin Wall went up 60 years ago
A cyclist passes the Berlin Wall memorial on Bernauer Straße in Berlin. The wall was erected 60 years ago on August 13th, 1961. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jörg Carstensen

Rumours that the border between East and West Berlin was about to be closed had been swirling for 48 hours.

On Friday, the parliament or People’s Chamber of communist German Democratic Republic (GDR) had given the green light to take any measures necessary to halt the exodus of its population westwards.

READ ALSO: What it was like voting as an American in Germany right before the Berlin Wall fell

Over the preceding 12 years, more than three million citizens had fled the strict regime, opting for the freedom and prosperity offered by West Germany.

News flashes

At 4:01 am on that Sunday, a top-priority AFP flash dated Berlin hit the wire: “The army and Volkspolizei are massing at the edge of the Eastern and Western sectors of Berlin to block passage.”

In a second flash, the story was firmed up. “Berlin’s metropolitan trains have for the past two hours not been going from one sector to the other.”

Then one flash after another fell:
   
– 4:28 am:  “The GDR’s Council of Ministers has decided to put in place at its borders, even at those with the western sector of Berlin, the checks usual at borders of a sovereign state.”

– 4:36 am: “An order from the East German interior ministry forbids the country’s inhabitants to go to East Berlin if they do not work there.”

– 4:50 am: “Inhabitants of East Berlin are forbidden to work in West Berlin, according to a decision by the East Berlin city authorities.”

Barbed wire and guns

In the very early morning, AFP’s correspondent at the scene described the situation on the ground.

“Barbed wire fences and defensive spikes have been put in place overnight to hermetically seal the border between East Berlin and West Berlin.

READ ALSO: What happened during Germany’s ‘catastrophic winter’ of 78/79?

“The road is practically cut off for refugees.

“Most of the crossing points between the two sides of the city have been cut off since sunrise and are heavily guarded by the police patrolling with machine guns on their shoulders.

“Only 13 border crossings remain open between the two Berlins, controlled by numerous reinforced units of armed police.


A sign on the wall next to Brandenburg Gate reads: “The wall is coming down – not in 30, 50 or 100 years.” This photo was taken a year before the wall fell. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Wolfgang Kumm

Dramatic escape

“Germans from East Berlin can no longer go to the West without a special pass, the controls are excessively strict.

“As the net falls over the communist part of the city, a young Berliner from the East manages against all odds to ram with his car the barbed wire separating the two sectors of the city.

“Seeing the young man arriving at high speed in a Volkswagen, the police were too taken off guard to be able to stop the car, which carried the barbed wire placed across the street right to the French sector,” AFP wrote.

‘Death strip”

Little by little, the kilometres of barbed wire will give way to a 43-kilometre-long (27-mile-long) concrete wall cutting the city in two from north to south.

Another outer wall, 112 kilometres (70 miles) long, cuts off the enclave of West Berlin and its two million inhabitants from the GDR.

Constantly upgraded over its 28 years of existence, more than 100 kilometres (60 miles) of the wall is made up of slabs of reinforced concrete, 3.60 metres (12 feet) high, crowned with a cylinder without a grip making it almost impossible to climb.

The remainder is made of metal wire.

Along the eastern side of what is widely called the “wall of shame” stands a “no man’s land”, 300 metres (990 feet) deep in places.


Border soldiers from the DDR look over the wall in May 28th, 1988. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Wolfgang Kumm

At the foot of the wall a “death strip” made up of carefully raked ground to make it possible to spot footprints, is equipped with installations that set off automatic gunfire and mines.

However hermetic this formidable “anti-fascist protection rampart”, as it was officially known, would be, it would not prevent the escape of nearly 5,000 people until it fell on November 9th, 1989. Around 100 fugitives lost their lives trying to cross over.

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