The Berlin Wall visits Los Angeles

Nov 13, 2009 by Lisa Newton

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The story of the Berlin Wall is paradoxically new, and old. Its history is as old as civilization’s early empire’s–it represents the falling and failing of a kingdom, and the emergence of a new one.

At the end of World War II, the former Soviet Union annexed the entirety of Eastern Europe, and seized East Germany, resulting in Germany being split in half between American and Western Europe’s control of West Berlin and West Germany, and the USSR controlling the rest.

Essentially both the capital of Germany and Germany itself, became emblematic of the Cold War. It also became a very real part of the same quarrel—problem being, though, that Berlin was located in the Russian controlled part of East Germany.

Literally overnight, the Russians were hell bent on seizing West Berlin, and decided to build a complex barrier to keep East Germans from access into West Berlin. They used a maze of sensors, barb wire, and a concrete barrier—the Wall—to physically separate East and West Berlin to prevent East Berliners from reaching the West, and vice versa.

In 1948, following disagreements regarding reconstruction and a new German currency, Stalin instituted the Berlin Blockade, preventing food, materials and supplies from arriving into West Berlin. Therefore, and as a result, West Berlin was immediately cut-off from supply routes for food, medicine, and the basics of its resident’s survival. The United States, Britain, France, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and several other countries began a massive “Berlin airlift”, supplying West Berlin with food and other supplies

Here’s a map from Wikipedia showing the Wall’s path and various checkpoints:

West Berlin

Built in 1961– officially described as the "Anti-Fascist Protection Wall,”–the Berlin Wall not only kept people out, but kept its residents in. Residents of East Berlin who had family, friends, or spouses in the West were not allowed to see them. If an East Berliner worked in West Berlin, he and/or she immediately became unemployed.

Four Sections

Not enough to have just one wall, in 1962 a second, parallel fence about 110 yards farther into East German territory, was constructed. Anything in that area was destroyed and the residents were ordered to relocate, de facto, establishing the No Man’s Land, that later became known as The Death Strip.”

Afterward, the human spirit and need for freedom never was distilled. Indeed, in the years following the building of the Wall, over 5,000 East Berliners still managed to escape East Berlin. But at a terrible cost:

Estimates of upwards of 200 deaths occurred while trying to escape—from electrocution, to being shot, and imprisonment.

Hope

Over the years, the Wall became more sophisticated, going through four different builds:

  1. Wire fence (1961)
  2. Improved wire fence (1962–1965)
  3. Concrete wall (1965–1975)
  4. Grenzmauer 75 (Border Wall 75) (1975–1989) Source: Berlin Wall

The 4th build-out of the Wall that is the most famous and infamous; 45,000 concrete sections were built and implanted by the Russians, at a cost $3,638,000 USD.

As the years passed, and as the façade of the Communist regimes of the East failed states started to crumble, the people drove the regimes to seek reform.

Simultaneously, the insurmountable pressure for democracy mounted across the former USSR, and as a result, the call “to dismantle the Berlin Wall” grew louder and stronger.

Then, in 1987, the then President Ronald Reagan offered a challenge to Mikhail Gorbachev, the then General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, to:

“Tear down the wall.”

Berlin Wall

After a series of announcements–official and unofficial– the Berlin Wall fell–literally.

November 9th, 2009, was the 20thAnniversary date of the fall of the Berlin wall. And because of that 20 year milestone, events are planned around the world to commemorate this historic event.

Currently, in Los Angeles, 10 sections of the Berlin Wall are on display across the street from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Although I was unable to attend any events, the fruit of my visit are now currently on display in Culver City.

Looking toward the future

To be able to both view and touch, this important piece of history, was very moving,and emotional. It’s hard to understand, or even imagine how it must have felt to live on either side of this wall–wanting and needing to see and live what was on the other side. And being under the iron fist of being boxed in, under Communist control, of course, forced the East Berliners to live under the boot of fascism.

Travelin’ Local can take you half way around the world to a different time and space, from 20 years ago.

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