Order to shoot and victims of the Berlin Wall
Anyone wishing to visit the eastern part of the city after the wall was built now needed a special permit. There were also strict regulations for leaving East Berlin heading west. After the Berlin Wall was built, the GDR leadership also fortified the 1,400-kilometer border with the Federal Republic. It was here that the dreaded “death strips” were created, which were supposed to make it impossible to cross the border. In parallel with the border, mines were laid and self-firing systems were installed. On August 22, 1961, the leadership of the GDR had already passed a “resolution to use the weapon”. The border guards were obliged to shoot anyone who tried to cross the border without a permit. Many citizens of the GDR were not deterred by this and tried to get over the deadly facilities to the west. Quite a few paid for this risk with their lives, because the border guards made use of the order to shoot. The number of victims on the Berlin Wall is at least 140. The death of Peter Fechter in August 1962 caused a particular stir. The 18-year-old bricklayer from Magdeburg wanted to be near the » Checkpoint Charlie ”, one of the regular border crossings, flee over the Wall to West Berlin. While his friend was successful, Fechter was shot by soldiers while he was on top of the wall. He fell back on East Berlin territory, where he lay for an hour without anyone coming to his aid. He died on the spot from his serious injuries.
For the leadership of the GDR, people like fencers were “refugees from the republic ”. She officially described the Berlin Wall as an “anti-fascist protective wall”. This was intended to give the impression that it was a wall that was supposed to guarantee the security of the GDR from outside attacks. In fact, however, the wall and the other border installations were intended to prevent GDR citizens from migrating to the West. The people in East Berlin and East Germany were literally locked in their own country.
While the wall was being built, violent protests came from the west. 500,000 people gathered in West Berlin and demanded that construction be stopped. The US administration under President John F. Kennedy assured the Berliners support. Nobody wanted to risk an armed conflict over Berlin, however, because the Soviet Union unequivocally acknowledged the measures taken by the GDR government. Thus the division of Berlin and Germany became a political reality. The responsible politicians in the GDR had achieved their goal. The mass emigration to the west no longer took place. At the same time, the leadership of the GDR tried to improve the country’s economic situation through reforms. In 1971, the “transit agreement” stimulated traffic from the FRG to West Berlin; Gradually, further travel facilitation in both directions was agreed. It was no longer completely impossible for people from the East to visit relatives in the West. And the German citizens had the opportunity
The Fall of the Wall
For over 28 years the Wall divided Berlin and the border fortifications divided Germany. Fewer and fewer people in the West dared to hope that this situation would one day change; for younger people the division was the “normal state”. But with the reshaping of the Soviet Union by Mikhail Gorbachev, the situation began to change in 1985. Everywhere in Eastern Europe the call for reform was now loud. The GDR leadership under Erich Honecker resisted these efforts. So there were massive protests in the GDR. The demonstrators called for freedom and democracy. When the border barriers between Hungary and Austria were dismantled in May 1989, numerous GDR citizens sought refuge in the embassies in Budapest, Prague and Warsaw. Also because of the pressure of the big » Monday demonstrations ”in Leipzig, Erich Honecker had to retreat.
On November 9, 1989, the new GDR leadership under Egon Krenz opened the border crossings between East and West Berlin. Tens of thousands of GDR citizens took the opportunity to go on a trip to West Berlin that night. On October 3, 1990, the GDR declared its accession to the Federal Republic of Germany. German reunification had thus become a reality. At the same time, work began on dismantling the wall and the other border fortifications that had separated the Germans from one another for so long.