Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Rescuing remnants of the hated Berlin Wall

From page A10 | March 10, 2013 |

The issue: It’s a piece of history some need to see to believe

If you were in Berlin between 1961 and 1989 — in West Berlin if you were lucky, East Berlin if you were not — the following is almost unbelievable.

Germans who turned out by the thousands to demolish the Berlin Wall in 1989 have now turned out almost 24 years later in slightly smaller numbers to try to save the wall — what’s left of it.

AFTER WORLD WAR II, Germany was divided into two zones, east and west. Berlin itself — located 200 miles inside Soviet-controlled East Germany — was divided into sectors, each governed by one of the occupying powers: the Soviet Union, the United States, Great Britain and France.

The Soviet Union, operating through a puppet regime, began to impose its brand of communism on its zone, featuring shortages, rationing and a crushing secret-police presence.

East Germans — particularly the young and educated — began to flee to democracy in West Berlin, where they could put down roots or find transportation to the rest of West Germany. By 1961, at least 2.5 million East Germans had gone west. The communist regime faced the very real prospect that it would be left with only the old and unemployable.

So, that year, the East Germans built a wall around West Berlin: 96 miles of barbed wire, concrete blocks, watch towers and a “death strip” where border guards had orders to shoot to kill would-be escapees. West Berliners were free to go as they pleased, albeit with some paperwork. For almost three decades, the wall largely served its purpose of keeping East Germans from crossing over to the west, though several thousand managed to escape and several hundreds died trying.

IN THE 1980s, the Kremlin began to ease its grip on Iron Curtain countries. With fewer constraints from Moscow, both Hungary and Czechoslovakia began opening their borders and East Germans quickly took advantage of that escape hatch.

East Berlin authorities felt obliged to offer limited access to West Berlin, but the announcement was bungled. On Nov. 9, 1989, thousands of East Berliners, believing they were free to leave, showed up at the wall and swept past the border guards. East and West Germany were reunited in 1990.

By 1990, the wall had largely been torn down. Visitors have to search hard to find traces of it. One is a 3/4-mile stretch, brightly painted and covered with graffiti. However, a real-estate developer won city permission to raze a 22-yard section to provide access to a luxury housing project.

Several thousand Berliners, many of them undoubtedly among those who tried to tear down the wall with their bare hands in 1989, showed up to demonstrate in favor of saving the section of the wall.

SEGMENTS OF the wall are worth preserving as a reminder of the lengths to which a totalitarian regime will go to control its own people. If you didn’t see it, you might not believe it.



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