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The wall that imprisoned half a city

Summary:
The Berlin Wall built by the East German government in 1961 finally came down on November 9th, 1989, thirty years ago. It was erected to stop the exodus of people voting with their feet to leave what was called the German Democratic Republic, though in fact the GDR was neither German, nor democratic, nor indeed was it a republic. People fled the repression and deprivation of the Communist state to enjoy the freedom and prosperity of the West, and the wall was built to stop them from doing so.With a Corbynesque contempt for the truth, the Communist authorities called it “the anti-fascist wall,” claiming that its purpose was to prevent fascists coming into East Germany. In fact the traffic was from East to West as the people imprisoned under Communism sought to gain their freedom. East

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The Berlin Wall built by the East German government in 1961 finally came down on November 9th, 1989, thirty years ago. It was erected to stop the exodus of people voting with their feet to leave what was called the German Democratic Republic, though in fact the GDR was neither German, nor democratic, nor indeed was it a republic. People fled the repression and deprivation of the Communist state to enjoy the freedom and prosperity of the West, and the wall was built to stop them from doing so.

With a Corbynesque contempt for the truth, the Communist authorities called it “the anti-fascist wall,” claiming that its purpose was to prevent fascists coming into East Germany. In fact the traffic was from East to West as the people imprisoned under Communism sought to gain their freedom. East German border guards shot to kill anyone caught trying to escape, and hundreds died during the wall’s lifetime.

The only people moving in the other direction seem to have been the Baader–Meinhof Gang, otherwise known as the Red Army Faction. After committing murders and bombings in West Germany, they were occasionally given refuge in the East by the Communist authorities before returning to the West for their next atrocity.

The other group who went East were a few enterprising young West Germans who dug tunnels under the wall to rescue friends and relatives still trapped in the East. The most successful was Joachim Neumann, who had fled from East Germany a few years earlier using a passport borrowed from a Swiss student. With a few friends he planned a tunnel to rescue his girlfriend. It took them five months of back-breaking work underground in dirty conditions, but they managed it. During the two days the tunnel was in operation, they managed to smuggle out 57 people, including his girlfriend, and other friends and family. The tunnel came to be known as "Tunnel 57" after the number who crawled to safety through it. The GDR Stasi finally cottoned on using ultrasound equipment and closed it down.

When the wall finally came down, it was due to a mistake. The Communist Party head in East Berlin was handed a note at a press conference and mistakenly announced that East Berliners were free to travel West. He was asked "When?" and replied that as far as he knew, it was effective immediately. A crowd of East Germans gathered at the Wall gateway, far outnumbering the guards, none of whom took the authority to use lethal force. Young Germans from East and West climbed the wall to join each other on top of it, and people began to dismantle it with pickaxes. East Berliners flooded West to be greeted with money and food from their Western counterparts.

I was watching the end of a BBC Newsnight special from Berlin when a cameraman walked into the studio live on air and dropped a lump of concrete on the table. The astonished presenter asked, "What is this; what's going on?" The cameraman replied, "It's the wall. They're taking it down."

It was a great day, symbolizing the liberation of many peoples who had endured the brutal repression of Communist regimes, and whose hitherto squalid, stunted lives, were now opened up to all the freedoms and opportunities available in the liberal democracies. It was a great day, not just for Berlin and Germany, but for the world.

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