If you want to keep water out, you build a dam. If you want to block the wind, you plant trees. If you want to keep people in, you build a wall. That was the thinking of the East German leadership in the early 1960s.
After Germany fell at the end of WW2, it was split into four sectors. Each sector was controlled by a major player in its demise. The Americans, English and French each had a sector, as did the Soviets. The three lovers of freedom united their sectors in what became known as West Germany, technically the Federal Republic of Germany. The Soviets, keen on having a satellite country in western Europe, kept their sector separate in what would become known as East Germany, or the Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR). Like the country, its capital of Berlin was divided. And like the country, the western allies united their sectors but the Soviets maintained control of theirs.
The problem with this is the Soviets were better at oppression than anything else. The oppressed people in East Berlin could look across the street and see the freedom being enjoyed by their neighbors, family members and coworkers in the western districts of the city. This led to many defections, something Khrushchev could not tolerate.
The solution was decidedly low-tech, but very effective. Construct a wall. Actually, it was a series of fences, walls and other methods meant to prevent a person from crossing over to West Berlin without the proper papers. In 1961 the first wall was constructed, which was a barbed wire fence patrolled by soldiers and dogs. This fence was improved over the next few years before construction of a concrete wall between 1965 and 1975. The new wall, made famous by David Hasselhoff, was an improved version built between 1975 and 1980. That wall, the Grenzmauer 75 (“border wall 75) included a barbed wire fence, anti-vehicle trench, guard dog runs, guard towers, bunkers, and the main wall. It wasn’t just a wall, but a complete system meant to keep people in.
The wall immediately separated families, neighborhoods and workers from their jobs. It had a chilling effect on relations between the West and the Soviet Union. It represented not just a border, but the Iron Curtain separating the democratic countries of western Europe from the Soviet-sponsored oppressive regimes in eastern Europe.
As technology it was basic. As a symbol it was powerful.
[Image Credit: BBC]