The Berlin Wall

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The Berlin Wall

At the end of World War II, Berlin had been divided among the Allies. The Soviet Union controlled the eastern half. The United States, Great Britain, and France controlled the western half. Still, for the people of Berlin, life mostly returned to normal after the war. People went to work each day. They went to movies and dances. They visited family and friends. The dividing line wasn't a problem. Families could travel back and forth across the line to visit relatives. People from East Berlin often crossed into West Berlin for entertainment and to shop. Many workers who lived in the east crossed the line every morning when they went to their jobs in the west.

But, something else was happening in Berlin too. Many people were crossing into West Berlin and not coming back. These people were refugees. They were leaving their homes in East Germany to find a better life in the west. West Berlin was prospering. The United States supplied West Berlin with aid and helped to rebuild the city after WWII. In East Berlin, however, many factories were closed and their machinery was sent back to the USSR. More and more people decided to cross the line forever. By 1961, as many as 2,000 people were leaving East Germany every week.

The rest of the border between East and West Germany was closed, so refugees came to Berlin. Here they could walk across the border along with the other residents of the city. This was a problem for East Berlin. It was losing its citizens. It was losing the workers that it needed to keep its economy up.

So, the leaders of East Berlin came up with a solution. They kept the idea secret until one night in August 1961. Then, while the people of Berlin slept, they put the plan into action. They built a wall across the center of Berlin.

In the morning, people awoke to find their city cut in half. They could no longer cross town to visit or to shop or to work. Families could no longer see their relatives who lived only a few miles away. Workers who had traveled into West Berlin awoke to find that they no longer had a job. Over the next few months, the wall was built stronger and higher.

Through the years, the wall was rebuilt several times. Just beyond the wall was a brightly-lit area known as the death strip. Guards at the wall were trained to shoot any refugees caught in this area. There were trenches designed to stop any vehicles that might try to get through. There were three hundred watchtowers where guards kept watch day and night.

People in East Berlin now lived under the economic system of communism. They could not find good jobs like they had once had in the west. Supplies became scarce as the economy grew worse.

West Berlin had new problems too. It was now cut off more than ever from the rest of the western world, as well as from the east. It would be many years before the wall finally came down.

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

It started in 1989. Communism around the world had begun to collapse. East Germans that wanted to escape their country were already beginning to leave their country through Hungary, which was no longer controlled by communists. East Germany was beginning to change too, and it had new government leaders.

One day in November 1989, the leaders of East Germany held a press conference. During the press conference, they mentioned that travel restrictions from East Berlin to West Berlin were being cancelled. Someone asked exactly when the restrictions would end. The reply: "Well, as far as I can see . . . immediately." Just like that, it was over. East and West Germans could travel back and forth again.

By midnight, the streets of Berlin were filling with people. People were singing and cheering. There were flags and fireworks. People sat on top of buildings and in trees to get a better view. Someone waved at a guard in his watchtower, and the guard waved back!

Soon a shout began. "Open the gate! Open the Gate!"

Other people didn't wait for the gate to open. They brought hammers, chisels, and drills, and went to work on the wall. Openings in the wall gave people a view that they hadn't seen in years. For many people, this was a view that they hadn't seen in their entire lifetime!

Now people were climbing through the wall and even over the wall! East Berliners arrived on the West side to cheers and hugs. Since their East German money was worthless in West Germany, many were offered money so that they could celebrate! Family members that hadn’t seen each other in decades were finally brought together again.

In the end, reuniting East and West Germany took quite some time. But the tearing down of the Berlin Wall was a great start!

  1. Why did the leaders of East Berlin build the wall?


  1. How long did the Berlin Wall stand?


  1. Describe why the Berlin Wall was dangerous to anyone trying to cross.


  1. Imagine you have been living in either East or West Berlin. Write a letter describing the day when the Berlin Wall was pulled down, and how you might have felt.


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