Building of Berlin Wall II

Program Information

Series: A Moment in Time
Duration: 00:04:08
Year Produced: 2010
Description:

Surrounded by East Germany--and its citizens sometimes subjected to hostile restrictions on travel--West Berlin proved itself a shining example of the virtues of political and economic freedom. It had to be stopped.

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Transcript

Lead: Surrounded by East Germany--and its citizens sometimes subjected to hostile restrictions on travel--West Berlin proved itself a shining example of the virtues of political and economic freedom. It had to be stopped.

Intro.: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: By 1960 East Germany was in trouble. Its population was restless under communist repression, its economy was dependent on Soviet aid, and it suffered under the usual inefficiencies of a Marxist command structure. Its population was declining. Thousands were exercising the opportunity of free access to West Berlin to escape to the West. In the first seven months of 1961 alone, 200,000 walked across the various allied checkpoints in West Berlin and never looked back. East Germany could not survive this continued exodus.

Quietly the East German government began making preparations to ring West Berlin with a barrier to stanch the outflow of Germans seeking a better life in the West. 45,000 new recruits were forced into government service, barbed wire and concrete poles were purchased and set aside for future use. The printers who were making “Border Closed” signs were locked inside their print shops, with their families, on the night of August 12th, 1961.

At 15 minutes past midnight, East German police began stringing barbed wire across the streets between the two sections of Berlin. Trains were stopped and some streets were torn up. When crowds began to gather to protest, they were driven back by bayonets and water cannons.

The Allies, fearful of provoking a nuclear war, were passive and soon the wall became an established fact of life. In the weeks after the initial closing the wall was strengthened, and on August 24th East German border guards shot a young man trying to escape. He would be the first of hundreds killed, thousands arrested, trying to escape. Over 5,000 did manage to get out by negotiating sewer lines or digging tunnels or just jumping the wall, as did a young East German guard in the early days.

The wall would remain as an example of the failure of the Soviet system and of communism in general, until it was systematically torn down beginning in November, 1989.

At the University of Richmond, this is Dan Roberts.