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Tue Aug 13, 2019, 08:01 AM

58 Years Ago Today; East Germany closes border between East and West Berlin - Berlin Wall started

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berlin_Wall


East German Combat Groups of the Working Class close the border on 13 August 1961 in preparation for the Berlin Wall construction.

The Berlin Wall (German: Berliner Mauer, pronounced [bɛʁˈliːnɐ ˈmaʊ̯ɐ] ) was a guarded concrete barrier that physically and ideologically divided Berlin from 1961 to 1989. Construction of the Wall was commenced by the German Democratic Republic (GDR, East Germany) on 13 August 1961. The Wall cut off (by land) West Berlin from surrounding East Germany, including East Berlin. The barrier included guard towers placed along large concrete walls, accompanied by a wide area (later known as the "death strip" ) that contained anti-vehicle trenches, "fakir beds" and other defenses. The Eastern Bloc portrayed the Wall as protecting its population from fascist elements conspiring to prevent the "will of the people" in building a socialist state in East Germany.

GDR authorities officially referred to the Berlin Wall as the Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart (German: Antifaschistischer Schutzwall). The West Berlin city government sometimes referred to it as the "Wall of Shame", a term coined by mayor Willy Brandt in reference to the Wall's restriction on freedom of movement. Along with the separate and much longer Inner German border (IGB), which demarcated the border between East and West Germany, it came to symbolize physically the "Iron Curtain" that separated Western Europe and the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War.

Before the Wall's erection, 3.5 million East Germans circumvented Eastern Bloc emigration restrictions and defected from the GDR, many by crossing over the border from East Berlin into West Berlin; from there they could then travel to West Germany and to other Western European countries. Between 1961 and 1989 the Wall prevented almost all such emigration. During this period over 100,000 people attempted to escape and over 5,000 people succeeded in escaping over the Wall, with an estimated death toll ranging from 136 to more than 200 in and around Berlin.

In 1989, a series of revolutions in nearby Eastern Bloc countries—Poland and Hungary in particular—caused a chain reaction in East Germany that ultimately resulted in the demise of the Wall. After several weeks of civil unrest, the East German government announced on 9 November 1989 that all GDR citizens could visit West Germany and West Berlin. Crowds of East Germans crossed and climbed onto the Wall, joined by West Germans on the other side in a celebratory atmosphere. Over the next few weeks, euphoric people and souvenir hunters chipped away parts of the Wall. The Brandenburg Gate in the Berlin Wall was opened on December 22, 1989. The demolition of the Wall officially began on 13 June 1990 and was completed in 1992. The "fall of the Berlin Wall" paved the way for German reunification, which formally took place on 3 October 1990.

<snip>


East German construction workers building the Berlin Wall, 20 November 1961.

Construction begins, 1961
On 15 June 1961, First Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party and GDR State Council chairman Walter Ulbricht stated in an international press conference, "Niemand hat die Absicht, eine Mauer zu errichten!" (No one has the intention of erecting a wall!). It was the first time the colloquial term Mauer (wall) had been used in this context.

The transcript of a telephone call between Nikita Khrushchev and Ulbricht, on 1 August in the same year, suggests that the initiative for the construction of the Wall came from Khrushchev. However, other sources suggest that Khrushchev had initially been wary about building a wall, fearing negative Western reaction. Nevertheless, Ulbricht had pushed for a border closure for quite some time, arguing that East Germany's very existence was at stake.

Khrushchev had become emboldened upon seeing US President John F. Kennedy's youth and inexperience, a weakness against Khrushchev's brutal, undiplomatic aggression. In the 1961 Vienna summit, Kennedy made the error of admitting that the US wouldn't actively oppose the building of a barrier. A feeling of miscalculation and failure was admitted by Kennedy, immediately afterwards, in a candid interview with New York Times columnist James "Scotty" Reston. On Saturday, 12 August 1961, the leaders of the GDR attended a garden party at a government guesthouse in Döllnsee, in a wooded area to the north of East Berlin. There, Ulbricht signed the order to close the border and erect a wall.

At midnight, the police and units of the East German army began to close the border and, by Sunday morning, 13 August, the border with West Berlin was closed. East German troops and workers had begun to tear up streets running alongside the border to make them impassable to most vehicles and to install barbed wire entanglements and fences along the 156 kilometres (97 mi) around the three western sectors, and the 43 kilometres (27 mi) that divided West and East Berlin. The date of 13 August became commonly referred to as Barbed Wire Sunday in Germany.

The barrier was built inside East Berlin or East German territory to ensure that it did not encroach on West Berlin at any point. Generally, the Wall was only slightly inside East Berlin, but in a few places it was some distance from the legal border, most notably at Potsdamer Bahnhof and the Lenné Triangle that is now much of the Potsdamer Platz development.

Later, the initial barrier was built up into the Wall proper, the first concrete elements and large blocks being put in place on 17 August. During the construction of the Wall, National People's Army (NVA) and Combat Groups of the Working Class (KdA) soldiers stood in front of it with orders to shoot anyone who attempted to defect. Additionally, chain fences, walls, minefields and other obstacles were installed along the length of East Germany's western border with West Germany proper. A huge no man's land was cleared to provide a clear line of fire at fleeing refugees.

Immediate effects


US President John F. Kennedy visiting the Berlin Wall on 26 June 1963

With the closing of the East-West sector boundary in Berlin, the vast majority of East Germans could no longer travel or emigrate to West Germany. Berlin soon went from being the easiest place to make an unauthorized crossing between East and West Germany to being the most difficult. Many families were split, while East Berliners employed in the West were cut off from their jobs. West Berlin became an isolated exclave in a hostile land. West Berliners demonstrated against the Wall, led by their Mayor (Oberbürgermeister) Willy Brandt, who strongly criticized the United States for failing to respond. Allied intelligence agencies had hypothesized about a wall to stop the flood of refugees, but the main candidate for its location was around the perimeter of the city. In 1961, Secretary of State Dean Rusk proclaimed, "The Wall certainly ought not to be a permanent feature of the European landscape. I see no reason why the Soviet Union should think it is—it is to their advantage in any way to leave there that monument to communist failure."

United States and UK sources had expected the Soviet sector to be sealed off from West Berlin, but were surprised by how long the East Germans took for such a move. They considered the Wall as an end to concerns about a GDR/Soviet retaking or capture of the whole of Berlin; the Wall would presumably have been an unnecessary project if such plans were afloat. Thus, they concluded that the possibility of a Soviet military conflict over Berlin had decreased.

The East German government claimed that the Wall was an "anti-fascist protective rampart" (German: "antifaschistischer Schutzwall" ) intended to dissuade aggression from the West. Another official justification was the activities of Western agents in Eastern Europe. The Eastern German government also claimed that West Berliners were buying out state-subsidized goods in East Berlin. East Germans and others greeted such statements with skepticism, as most of the time, the border was only closed for citizens of East Germany traveling to the West, but not for residents of West Berlin travelling to the East. The construction of the Wall had caused considerable hardship to families divided by it. Most people believed that the Wall was mainly a means of preventing the citizens of East Germany from entering or fleeing to West Berlin.

Secondary response
The National Security Agency was the only American intelligence agency that was aware that East Germany was to take action to deal with the brain drain problem. On 9 August 1961, the NSA intercepted an advance warning information of the Socialist Unity Party's plan to close the intra-Berlin border between East and West Berlin completely for foot traffic. The interagency intelligence Berlin Watch Committee assessed that this intercept "might be the first step in a plan to close the border." This warning did not reach John F. Kennedy until noon on 13 August 1961, while he was vacationing in his yacht off the Kennedy Compound in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. While Kennedy was angry that he had no advance warning, he was relieved that the East Germans and the Soviets had only divided Berlin without taking any action against West Berlin's access to the West. However, he denounced the Berlin Wall, whose erection worsened the relations between the United States and the Soviet Union.

In response to the erection of the Berlin Wall, a retired general, Lucius D. Clay, was appointed by Kennedy as his special advisor and sent to Berlin with ambassadorial rank. Clay had been the Military Governor of the US Zone of Occupation in Germany during the period of the Berlin Blockade and had ordered the first measures in what became the Berlin Airlift. He was immensely popular with the residents of West Berlin, and his appointment was an unambiguous sign that Kennedy would not compromise on the status of West Berlin. Clay and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson arrived at Tempelhof Airport on the afternoon of Saturday, 19 August 1961.

They arrived in a city defended by three Allied brigades —one each from the UK (Berlin Infantry Brigade), the US (Berlin Brigade), and France (Forces Françaises à Berlin). On 16 August, Kennedy had given the order for them to be reinforced. Early on 19 August, the 1st Battle Group, 18th Infantry (commanded by Colonel Glover S. Johns Jr.) was alerted.

On Sunday morning, U.S. troops marched from West Germany through East Germany, bound for West Berlin. Lead elements—arranged in a column of 491 vehicles and trailers carrying 1,500 men, divided into five march units—left the Helmstedt-Marienborn checkpoint at 06:34. At Marienborn, the Soviet checkpoint next to Helmstedt on the West German-East German border, US personnel were counted by guards. The column was 160 kilometres (99 mi) long, and covered 177 kilometres (110 mi) from Marienborn to Berlin in full battle gear. East German police watched from beside trees next to the autobahn all the way along.

The front of the convoy arrived at the outskirts of Berlin just before noon, to be met by Clay and Johnson, before parading through the streets of Berlin in front of a large crowd. At 04:00 on 21 August, Lyndon Johnson left West Berlin in the hands of General Frederick O. Hartel and his brigade of 4,224 officers and men. "For the next three and a half years, American battalions would rotate into West Berlin, by autobahn, at three month intervals to demonstrate Allied rights to the city".

The creation of the Wall had important implications for both German states. By stemming the exodus of people from East Germany, the East German government was able to reassert its control over the country: in spite of discontent with the Wall, economic problems caused by dual currency and the black market were largely eliminated. The economy in the GDR began to grow. But, the Wall proved a public relations disaster for the communist bloc as a whole. Western powers portrayed it as a symbol of communist tyranny, particularly after East German border guards shot and killed would-be defectors. Such fatalities were later treated as acts of murder by the reunified Germany.

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Reply 58 Years Ago Today; East Germany closes border between East and West Berlin - Berlin Wall started (Original post)
Dennis Donovan Tuesday OP
mahatmakanejeeves Tuesday #1

Response to Dennis Donovan (Original post)

Tue Aug 13, 2019, 11:59 AM

1. Two days later, this happened:

I love this picture. Probably, though, all his family members were made to suffer as a result. There was not a happy ending.



More about the incident:

The story of Berlin Wall in pictures, 1961-1989
....



East German border guard Conrad Schumann leaps into the French Sector of West Berlin over barbed wire on August 15, 1961. More info about this picture.
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Conrad Schumann defects to West Berlin, 1961



“The Leap into Freedom”. 1961. (The picture is linked from Imgur).

Conrad Schumann was immortalized in this photograph as he leapt across the barricade that would become the Berlin Wall. The photo was called “The Leap into Freedom”. It became an iconic image of the Cold War.

Born in Zschochau, Saxony during the middle of World War II, he enlisted in the East German state police following his 18th birthday. Since he had always shown himself to be a loyal and hardworking young citizen of the German Democratic Republic, local military officials offered him an elite position in the paramilitary Bereitschaftspolizei or BePo (“riot police”), which was specifically conceived to suppress rebellion.

On 15 August 1961, the 19-year-old Schumann was sent to the corner of Ruppiner Strasse and Bernauer Strasse to guard the Berlin Wall on its third day of construction. At that time, the wall was only a low barbed wire fence. At the same spot, on the West Berlin, was standing the 19-year-old photographer Peter Leibing. For more than an hour, Leibing stood watching the nervous young non-commissioned officer as he paced back and forth, his PPSh-41 slung over his shoulder, smoking one cigarette after another. “Come on over, come on over!” (Komm’ rüber!) the West Berlin crowd on Bernauer Strasse chanted. “He’s going to jump!” one passerby remarked.

And at four p.m. on August 15, 1961, Leibing got lucky. Schumann tossed aside his cigarette, then turned and ran for the coil of barbed wire that marked the boundary between East and West. He jumped, flinging away his gun as he flew, and Leibing clicked the shutter. A nearby newsreel cameraman captured the same scene on film (the clip below).
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“Come on over, come on over!” (Komm’ rüber!) the West Berlin crowd on Bernauer Strasse chanted. (Still picture from the video footage).
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But fame and escape brought him no happiness. The police psychologist who interviewed Schumann in Berlin shortly after his escape noted in his report that the soldier was deeply distressed at the publicity his act was going to bring both him and his family at home. Not only did he have severe qualms about having deserted his comrades in the midst of a “combat operation” and having violated his sacred oath, he also feared for his life. There were a number of proven cases of East German refugees and even West German critics who were either murdered or kidnapped by Stasi agents.
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In an interview in the 1990s, Schumann told reporters that he only really felt free after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Even so, he avoided visiting his parents and siblings in Saxony for several years following reunification, and his former comrades wanted nothing to do with him. Once a deserter, always a deserter. On 20 June 1998, aged 56, suffering from depression, he committed suicide, hanging himself in his orchard near the town of Kipfenberg in Upper Bavaria.

(Photo credit: Chronos Media GmbH – Getty Images / Peter Leibing).

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