Posts Tagged ‘Berlin Wall’

German reunification

Thursday, October 30th, 2014

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

At the beginning of 1989 German reunification was on no one’s mind. Hardly anybody in Germany or elsewhere anticipated that the Berlin Wall would disappear in the near future. During the course of the preceding twenty-eight years, the East German government had continually “improved” the Wall. Now, in its forth generation, the Berlin Wall was higher, stronger, and even less surmountable than ever before.

Reunification within one year

On October 7 of the same year, the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) celebrated its 40th anniversary. Despite preceding unrest and demonstrations, no one expected it to be the GDR’s last anniversary celebration. But only one year later, on October 3, 1990, the two distinct German states were reunited after forty years of separation. East Germany had collapsed like a house of cards in the space of just a few months, and the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) had added five new federal states by accession. They were: Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia.

The cost of reunification

Initially, reunification brought forth nothing but exuberance among the people on both sides of the dividing line. East and West Germans assumed that the reunification process could turn into an administrative nightmare, but that it would be a manageable undertaking. But it tuned out that the social and financial costs of reunification were enormous. Within a brief period, people in the East and West were forced to come to terms with their past, present and future without so much as a precedent in history. http://www.tatsachen-ueber-deutschland.de/en/german-unity/main-content-020/the-challenge-aufbau-ost.html

Next time, I will discuss some of the problems East and West Germans had to face during the reunification process and for many years thereafter.

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com. Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

 

 

Ampelmaennchen – former East Berliners

Thursday, May 15th, 2014

What is green and helps pedestrians cross the road? Ampelmännchen! Ampelmännchen is German for “little traffic light men.” Internationally, a generic walking figure or a WALK sign gives pedestrians permission to cross, a hand or a DON’T WALK sign implies to wait. Prior to German reunification in 1990, the two German states used different forms of Ampelmännchen: West German traffic signs showed a generic human figure; East German signs displayed a stocky male figure wearing a hat.

Ampelmännchen (little traffic light men) created by former East Berliner, Karl Peglau

Ampelmännchen (little traffic light men) created by Karl Peglau in 1961

History of the German Ampelmännchen

Until 1961, only vehicle traffic lights directed traffic in the former German Democratic Republic (East Germany). The lights looked more or less the way they had in the 1930s. But the growing number of cars had led to an increase in vehicle-pedestrian accidents, which caused the East Berlin Traffic Commission to consider traffic lights for pedestrians. They asked East Berlin traffic psychologist Karl Peglau to design such lights. In early October 1961, less than two months after the Berlin Wall had gone up, Peglau introduced an icon of a little perky green man with a happy stride to signal permission to cross. His red cousin spread his arms like a human barricade. By the early 1980s, the icons had also gained widespread popularity throughout East Germany as characters in children’s road safety education programs, a cartoon strip, a radio nighttime story series, and on television.

Save the East German Ampelmännchen

Following reunification, traffic lights were to be standardized, and the East German Ampelmännchen were slated to disappear, much like other features that had once been part of life in former East Germany. Immediately, a campaign to “Save the Ampelmännchen” was launched with the result that those perky little guys with their human features were preserved from extinction first in the former East Germany, then in the former West Berlin, and eventually in other formerly West German cities as well.

The Ampelmännchen mascot

In the years after German reunification, the former East German Ampelmännchen became the mascot for an East German nostalgia movement because, as Peglau believes, they represented a positive aspect of an otherwise failed social order. Today, Ampelmännchen are extremely popular souvenirs with locals and tourists alike and are recognized worldwide as a brand from Berlin. Over forty souvenir products bearing the Ampelmann logo, including t-shirts, bags mugs, lamps, and jewelry, are hot ticket items and have become the German equivalent of Mickey Mouse. Also visit Ampelmann to marry Ampelfrau

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com. Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

 

 

Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

The Brandenburg Gate–Brandenburger Tor–is Berlin’s most famous landmark. During its 200+ year history it has been a city symbol under many different regimes. At different times in its history, it has symbolized peace, division, and freedom and unity. Between 1961 and 1989, when the Berlin Wall divided East and West Berlin, visitors often climbed onto an observation platform adjacent to the Brandenburg Gate to get a glimpse of the world behind the Iron Curtain.

The Quadriga

Atop the Brandenburg Gate stands the sculpture of a chariot. It is pulled by four horses and driven by a goddess. The goddess was originally said to symbolize a courier of peace. Later it was reinterpreted to represent Victoria, the Roman Goddess of Victory. The Quadriga spent the years from 1806 to 1814 in Paris, France.

Brandenburg Gate - symbol of peace, division and unity

Brandenburg Gate – symbol of peace, division and unity

Brandenburg Gate History

The Brandenburg Gate witnessed many important events in German History:

1730s–Originally, the gate was one of 18 gates within the customs walls that once formed the entrance to Berlin.

1788-1791– King Friedrich Wilhelm II commissioned Carl Gotthard Langhans to rebuild the old city gate in the shape of the triumphal arch we see today. The design was inspired by the Propylaea, the Gateway to the Acropolis in Athens. Hence, Berlin has often been called “Spree Athen” (Athens on the River Spree).

1793–The Quadriga is erected on top of the Brandenburg Gate. (The goddess is said to represent a courier of peace.)

1806– After the French Army defeated the Prussians, Napoleon removed the Quadriga and carted off his spoils to Paris.

1814–The Prussian Army defeated Napoleon, occupied Paris and returned the Quadriga to Berlin. Afterwards, the monument was redesigned as a triumphal arch. The oak wreath on the goddess’ scepter was replaced with an iron cross and the Prussian eagle. (The goddess was reinterpreted to represent the Roman Goddess of Victory.)

1933–The National Socialists marched through the Brandenburg Gate in a martial torch parade and introduced Germany’s darkest chapter in history.

1945–The neoclassical sandstone arch suffered considerable damage during World War II. Berlin was divided into four sectors, and the Brandenburg Gate was now located just inside the Soviet Sector. But vehicles and pedestrians continued to travel freely through the gate.

1961– The Berlin Wall was erected in an arc just west of the gate, cutting off access from West Berlin. On the eastern side, a “border marker” cordoned off the Brandenburg Gate for East Berliners. On 13 August–the day construction of the Berlin Wall began–one crossing remained open on the eastern side of the gate. When West Berliners demonstrated against the Wall the following day, the East closed the only remaining checkpoint at the Brandenburg Gate. Traffic did not reopen until 1989.

1987–US President Ronald Regan spoke the historic words at the gate, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this Wall!”

1989–When the Brandenburg Gate opened again to traffic upon reunification, 100,000 people came to celebrate the occasion.

1994–U.S. President Bill “Clinton spoke at the gate about peace in post-Cold War Europe.

2000-2002–The Brandenburg Gate was restored to its former glory.

2013–U.S. President Barack Obama spoke at the Brandenburg Gate about nuclear arms reduction and U.S. Internet surveillance activities.

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com. Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

 

 

The day the Berlin Wall fell

Saturday, November 9th, 2013

9 November 1989 will be remembered as the day the Berlin Wall fell. The Berlin Wall became the hated symbol of the Cold War. It had stood for twenty-eight years and fell unexpectedly within a few short hours. Not one shot was fired.

What caused the Berlin Wall to fall

In the wake of glasnost and perestroika, Hungary had opened its borders to Austria on 19 August 1989. The following month, thousands of East Germans raced to Hungary to flee to free Austria. Hungary’s border opening created a chain reaction. Demonstrations for increased freedoms broke out all over East Germany. Two months later, in October, East German leaders forced longtime Head of State, Erich Honecker, to resign and installed the moderate, Egon Krenz. With this action they hoped to appease the public. But the protests and the exodus continued. When Hungary tightened its new border crossing policies again, East Germans begged the West German embassy in Prague for help. The situation was quickly becoming a public relations disaster for East Germany.

What was supposed to happen

To release some of the pressure that had built-up, Egon Krenz decided on 9 November 1989 to allow East German refugees to exit legally through the crossing points between East Germany and West Germany, including West Berlin. Furthermore, his government intended to also ease private travel restrictions. These new regulations were to take effect the following day to allow time to inform the border guards. In other words, the East German government intended to relax the regulations for travel abroad. It did not mean to open the borders completely.

What happened instead

Shortly before giving a live evening press conference on 9 November 1989, party spokesman Guenter Schabowski was handed a note announcing the planned travel restriction changes. The regulations had only been written a few hours earlier. Schabowski had not been made privy to their content. Instead, he read at 6:53 p.m. the press release handed to him, “…Und deshalb haben wir uns entschlossen, heute eine Regelung zu treffen, die es jedem Buerger der DDR moeglich macht, ueber Grenzuebergangspunkte der DDR auszureisen – …And that is why we decided, to introduce a new regulation which will make it possible for every citizen of the GDR (East Germany) to legally exit the GDR through existing border crossings.” http://www.kalenderblatt.de

When a reporter asked when the new regulations would go into effect, Schabowski shrugged his shoulders and guessed, “Sofort – Immediately.” His offhand answer brought about dramatic consequences.

The beginning of the end of the Berlin Wall

The press conference was aired on East German television and news agencies around the world. Shortly after hearing the broadcast around 7 p.m., East Berliners began gathering at the six checkpoints between East and West Berlin, demanding that the border guards open the gates to the West. The surprised guards frantically called their superiors but received no clear instructions. By 8 p.m. hundreds of people had reached the border crossings. Soon thousands. The crowds failed to disperse. The situation was rapidly deteriorating. The vastly outnumbered soldiers had no way of holding back the huge crowds of East German citizens. By 9 p.m. the guards began to open the checkpoints. By midnight, all of Berlin’s border crossings were open. One hour later, West Germany’s checkpoints were open as well. They never closed again. 9 November 1989 will be remembered as the day the Berlin Wall fell.

East and West Berliners celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall in front of the Brandenburg Gate in the early morning of 10 November 1989. AP Photo - Jockel Finck

East and West Berliners celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall in front of the Brandenburg Gate in the early morning of 10 November 1989.
AP Photo – Jockel Finck

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com. Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

 

 

Potsdamer Platz – Part 1

Monday, October 28th, 2013

The Potsdamer Platz (Potsdam Square) is a well-known public square in the heart of Berlin, Germany. It is located about 1 km south of the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag (German Parliament building). The square grew from a five-cornered traffic knot along a 19th century trading route to one of the liveliest traffic intersections and public squares in Europe. World War II bombs laid waste to 80% of its buildings. During the Cold War that followed, the Berlin Wall ran through the middle of the square, turning it into a no man’s land. But since German reunification in 1990, the Potsdamer Platz has been the site of avant-garde redevelopment projects and is busier than ever.

Potsdamer Platz in the Beginning

Starting in the mid-19th century, Berlin was growing at a tremendous rate. After the city constructed the Potsdam rail station in 1838 and became the capital of the new German Empire in 1871, this five-cornered intersection turned into an important plaza. With a population of 4.4 million, Berlin had become the third largest city in the world, right after London and New York.

Potsdamer Platz in the 1920s and 1930s

By the 1920s and 1930s, the Potsdamer Platz was the busiest traffic center in all of Europe. Five of Berlin’s most hectic streets met here in a star-shaped intersection. Huge hotels and department stores, theatres, dance halls and clubs, cafes, restaurants and bars, beer and wine houses, and hundreds of small shops had sprung up all around the square. Some had acquired an international reputation.

Potsdamer Platz in the mid 1920s

Potsdamer Platz in the mid 1920s

Potsdamer Platz during WWII

As was true of most of the buildings located in the center of Berlin, air raids devastated most of the structures that were built around the Potsdamer Platz. The three most destructive raids occurred during the final years of World War II – in November 1943 and in February 1945.

Watch for the second article in this sequence which talks about the Potsdamer Platz following World War II.

Visit http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/potsdamer-platz-part-2/ to read about the Potsdamer Platz following World War II.

 

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com. Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

 

 

Walter Ulbricht

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

On this day in history–July 24,–communist statesman Walter Ulbricht became the First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Social Unity Party of East Germany. He had been the Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers of East Germany since 1949. When the party had restructured into a more Soviet-style Communist party the following year, Walter Ulbricht had become General Secretary of the Central Committee. In 1953, that position was renamed First Secretary, making Walter Ulbricht the actual leader of East Germany. On account of a childhood diphtheria infection, he retained a squeaky falsetto voice, which made his speeches difficult to understand.

Walter Ulbricht, East German Statesman 1950-1971

Walter Ulbricht, East German Statesman
1950-1971

Already during the Weimar Republic (1919 to 1933) Ulbricht had played a key role in the creation of Germany’s Communist Party. He had spent the Hitler years in exile in the Soviet Union. In 1945, he had returned to Germany to reconstruct the communist Social Unity Party and to help establish the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). Walter Ulbricht was a loyal follower of Leninist and Stalinist principles and is quoted as having said, “Es muss demokratisch aussehen, aber wir muessen alles in der Hand haben–it has to look democratic but we must keep our hands in everything.”

In 1950, Ulbricht announced a five-year plan concentrating on the doubling of industrial production in East Germany. By 1952, eighty percent of industry had been nationalized. Consumer goods were often in short supply or of shoddy quality. His leadership is said to have been repressive, and undemocratic, and that he crushed all opposition. As a result, large numbers of citizens fled to the West. In order to stop the outflow of workers he gave orders to build the Berlin Wall in 1961. Only two months earlier he had publicly stated, “Niemand hat die Absicht, eine Mauer zu errichten–No one has the intention to erect a wall.” His unwillingness to seek an accord with West Germany coupled with his difficult relationship with Soviet Union party leader, Leonid Brezhnev, forced his resignation in 1971. He was replaced by his protage, Erich Honecker.

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com. Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

 

 

 

Helmut Schmidt succeeds Willy Brandt

Thursday, May 16th, 2013

On this day in 1974–on May 16–Helmut Schmidt succeeded Willy Brandt as Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany). Only days earlier, Guenter Guillaume, one of Willy Brandt’s personal assistants, had been exposed as an agent of the Stasi, the East German secret service. A disgraced Brandt had resigned in the wake of the espionage expose. Since that time, it is widely believed however, that the Guillaume affair was only the trigger, not the cause, for Brandt’s resignation. Willy Brandt’s leadership had also been plagued by scandals about serial adultery. And he had reportedly struggled with alcohol and depression.

From 1957 to 1966, Willy Brandt was the Mayor of West Berlin, a time when East-West tension peaked and ultimately led to the construction of the Berlin Wall. Brandt spoke out openly against Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev’s 1958 proposal that Berlin become a “free city.” His relationship with President John F. Kennedy was such that in early 1961, a year before elections in the Federal Republic of Germany, the United States were hoping that Brandt would replace Konrad Adenauer as Chancellor of West Germany. However, following the construction of the Berlin Wall in August 1961, Brandt was so disappointed in Kennedy that he criticized him publicly by stating, “Berlin expects more than words.”

A fellow Social Democrat, Helmut Schmidt, succeeded Brandt as the Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany. He successfully led his country through a worldwide economic recession and the oil crisis of the 1970s.

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com. Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Berlin Wall Controversy

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

Following unsuccessful negotiations earlier this month between city officials and investor, Maik Uwe Hinkel, construction crews moved in at 5 A.M. last Wednesday and removed four additional sections (15.75 feet) of one of the two remaining stretches of the Berlin Wall, called the East Side Gallery. Hinkel says the segments had to be removed to provide access for his luxury condominium project overlooking the River Spree, a site that was once part of the infamous deathstrip. Although BBC News reports that the stretch was heritage-listed in 1991, the protection apparently applies only to the wall itself, not the land it stands on.

A section of the East Side Gallery was removed to make room for these condos, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

A section of the East Side Gallery was removed to make room for these condos, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

The East Gallery was recently restored at a cost of more than 2 million euros to the city of Berlin, and about 120 International artists covered it with colorful murals. Scenes include an East German Trabant car and a fraternal kiss between Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and East German party chief Erich Honecker. Although Hinkel called the removal temporary on Wednesday, many Berliners worry that removal will turn out to be permanent, sacrificing history for profit.

“The Berlin Wall is the most significant symbol of the division of Berlin,” deputy director of the Berliner Mauer Stiftung, Maria Nooke said, according to the Huffington Post reports. “On the one hand it demonstrates the repression in East Germany, on the other hand it demonstrates how Germans peacefully overcame that repression. After a while there was a growing need to deal with that part of history and to preserve it for future generations.”

You may also want to visit http://walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/save-the-berlin-wall/

 

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com. Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

 

 

 

 

Save the Berlin Wall?

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

In 1989, singer/actor David Hasselhoff, best known for starring in Baywatch and Knight Rider, sang his way into the hearts of Germany with Looking for Freedom. He sang standing on top of the Berlin Wall on New Yea’s Eve that year. The song became an instant hit and topped German pop charts for eight weeks in a row. To many, it became synonymous with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Nearly 25 years later, Hasselhoff hopes to help save the Wall he once wished to destroy.

In the years that followed reunification, most of the Berlin Wall was destroyed or sold to museums across the world. Countless tiny fragments ended up on private mantle pieces. I certainly own a piece and like to recount how my husband and I hammered it out at dusk.

Only two large sections of the Berlin Wall remain in place as reminders that at least 136 people died between 1961 and 1989, trying to cross the monstrosity that divided East and West Germany for twenty-eight years. One of the two sections, the longest surviving stretch along the death strip and the second most frequented tourist spot in Berlin, is called the East Side Gallery. It is located at Bernauer Strasse in the north of the city. It is three-quarters of a mile long and decorated with dozens of paintings by artists from all over the world. Now, property developers want to tear down a 20-meter section of it to accommodate luxury building projects.

Demolition of the East Side Gallery was suspended earlier this month after activists formed a human chain in front of it. The scale of protests prompted Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit to oppose the demolition. Much will hinge on today’s meeting between the project investor, M. U. Hinkel, and the Berlin senate.

A section of the East Side Gallery was removed to make room for these condos, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

A section of the East Side Gallery was removed to make room for these condos, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

You may also want to visit http://walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/berlin-wall-controversy/

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com. Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.