November 9th 2014 marked the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The 96 mile long , 12 foot high concrete barrier completely surrounded The German Democratic Republic (East Berlin), cutting it off not only from West Germany but the rest of Europe as well. The GDR called it an “Anti-Fascist Rampart” to protect them from negative influences of Western capitalism and culture but it’s true purpose was to stem the mass exodus from East to West in the post war period between 1949 and 1961.
It began August 12th 1961 as a barbed wire fence and in the days that followed a wall of concrete block was erected complete with sentry towers, searchlights, machine guns and mine fields. Without warning as many as 50,000 families were separated.
Just one year after the construction of the wall two East German men attempted to scale the wall, the first successfully climbed over while his friend was shot and left to bleed to death. It’s still not known how many people died trying to cross the wall as East Germany kept it a closely guarded secret. The numbers have continued to climb since reunification to an estimated 1,100. Some were shot, others killed by landmines and boobytraps, some drown trying cross the Elbe River or the Baltic Sea, others died of heart attacks during the escape. A baby died after its parents gave it sleeping pills to keep it quiet during the crossing.
Other escape attempts were more successful. Most were simply run as fast as you can and scale the wall hoping there were no mines and that the Sentries could not shoot one of their countrymen. Others escaped in hand dug tunnels or swam or floated on air mattresses till they reached Denmark. The most unusual escapes came in September of 1979 when 8 people flew to freedom in a homemade hot air balloon. 14 people, including 11 children, escaped in a refrigerated truck, hiding under the carcasses of slaughtered pigs being exported to the West.
In 1989 as communist governments began to crumble the borders were opened between East and West Germany. The wall was so despised that all but a small section of the wall was destroyed.