The East Berlin “death strip” of the Berlin Wall, as seen from the Axel Springer AG Building in 1984.  From the Wikipedia webpage on the Wall.

by Geoffrey Churchman

Throughout its 28 year existence the Berlin Wall which encircled West Berlin was a stark representation of the division of Europe into two different worlds.

A green ‘wall’ was created between the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) and the DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik a.k.a. East Germany) in 1949, but all that was needed to cross from East to West Berlin was the price of an S-Bahn ticket on the elevated train.

By the late 1950s the bosses of the East German regime could see that the constant escaping of free socialist workers to the slavery of the capitalist west was bleeding the country dry of the people it needed to create its idea of a Communist paradise.  Their answer was a physical barrier, which some may liken to the Great Wall of Trump plans, but far more inhibiting with a death strip incorporating automatic firing devices, trip wires, armed police with dogs, razor wire on the wall, floodlights, watchtowers with armed guards with orders to shoot; and harsh penalties for not only those caught trying to escape, but reprisals against their families.  That didn’t stop escape attempts by other inventive means and most of these are contained in the Mauermuseum–Museum Haus am Checkpoint Charlie on Friedrichstrasse.


When I visited Berlin in 1986, Checkpoint Charlie was the sole transit entry point to East Berlin for non-Germans.  This view looks into the ‘American Sector’ from the East — the white line was the actual border, all the elaborate installations on the Communist side are behind.

In 1986 I can remember seeing a statement painted in French on the western side of the wall — “un jour le mur tombera” (one day the wall will fall) and thinking, probably but will it be in my lifetime? But after 28 years in 1989 the wall did came tumbling down, leading to the almost instant reunification of the two parts of Germany.

Although it was standard during the Cold War to blame the Soviets for the Wall, it is likely that all the pressure for it came from the East German bosses and not the Soviet bosses who were more interested in a non-aligned West Germany than in a puppet state in the East.  Earlier in the 1950s the Soviets had offered to pull out on that basis but West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer firmly opposed that. The next Chancellor Willie Brandt was less dogmatic, and his Ostpolitik diplomacy circa 1970 saw agreements between the two Germanys on some important things.

The Wall didn’t only reflect the cold war, but was the symbol of totalitarian oppression — government control over the people — which is a big issue worldwide now, including here in Jacindaland.