The Berlin Wall Museum

Germany's past is incredibly rich, full of amazing events, achievements, and tragedies. As a result, it can be overwhelming deciding what to pursue. Well, without a doubt, one of the most interesting parts of German history involves the history of the Berlin Wall. It was a literally divisive construct, separating not only Germans but ideologies--with the forces of Communism on the east and those of Democracy on the west.

The history of the Berlin Wall originates from the end of World War II when Germany was split into four quarters to be overseen by the four world powers: the U.S., France, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union. Additionally divided into four was the city of Berlin—the formal capital of the Third Reich.

Throughout the late 1940s and 1950s, millions of East Germans migrated across the border into West Germany, and many of them did so by moving through West Berlin. Often times they were drawn by the economic opportunities created by the Marshall Plan. However, many of those living in West Berlin would travel to East Berlin where the prices were significantly lower. The loss of labor damaged East Berlin, and in turn the Soviet Union which subsidized the fledgling communist bloc because East Berlin was also responsible for repaying war damage done to Poland and the Soviet Union. For a time, the Soviet Union set up a blockade, refusing access by street or rail to West Berlin.

One of the interesting facts about the Berlin Wall was that it originally started as a length of barbed wire set up by the East Berlin government (with approval from Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev). It was located a short distance away from the border so as to not infringe on the West Berlin border so if one walked up to the fence—and later the wall—you would actually be standing in East Berlin. Soldiers were on hand during the construction with orders to shoot any who tried to cross. This prototype of the Berlin Wall split families and caused economic hardship to those East Berliners who worked in the West. However, the barrier was also built entirely around West Berlin as well. The Allies protested, but not strongly, only choosing to rotate brigades of American troops through West Berlin after construction of the Wall began in 1961.

The Berlin Wall was almost a hundred miles long and a second fence was built three hundred feet in. The area in between was swept away and became a no man's land and was often referred to as the "death strip." The Wall itself evolved over the years, starting as a simple wire fence, then seeing some improvements to the wire, before turning into a concrete wall, and finally a reinforced concrete wall with a smooth pipe running along the top to make it harder to scale. Additionally, border towers, bunkers, barbed wire, and other deterrents were set up. It is this fourth version of the Wall that is most recognizable.

The gates surrounding West Berlin were very strict. There were only twelve areas to cross at and all save two were reserved for Germans only. While officials, diplomats, and soldiers were allowed free passage into East Berlin, West Berliners had to undergo significant restrictions.

Some of the most compelling facts about the Berlin Wall involve the approximately 5,000 people were able to escape across the Wall and into West Berlin. Close to two hundred were shot and killed and another two hundred were injured while trying to cross. Some of the other escapes were truly cinematic--from tunneling to driving a short car underneath a gate to creating small ultralights and flying across.

Foreigners, on the other hand, were more than welcome to cross into East Berlin. The Germans welcomed their money and so long as they were thoroughly searched before entering and leaving, they were largely left alone.

A great change in the history of the Berlin Wall came on August 23rd, 1989. The country of Hungary dissolved its border restriction with Austria, and some 13,000 East Berliners escaped through Hungary. Through series of events, a tremendous mob formed at the gates of the Berlin Wall, demanding entry into West Berlin. The only deterrent left to the guards and city officials was to use massive lethal force on their countrymen, something they weren't willing to do. Throughout the days and weeks, people would go to the wall with sledgehammers and demolish it piece by piece.

One of the unfortunate facts about the Berlin Wall is that only a little bit of it remains today, not even the watchtowers that stood in East Berlin. However, the Brandenburg Gate was left as a reminder of the edifice and its significance on the whole of Germany. Located near the former location of the infamous Checkpoint Charlie is the Berlin Wall Museum.

The Berlin Wall museum features, of course, exhibits and stories about the history of the Berlin Wall. Some of the escapes are truly incredible. The museum is not altogether spacious, and can lack organization, but has exhibits that paint an important picture of Berlin's recent past.

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