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August is the Wall’s birthday

We celebrate its disappearance, but it is worth remembering how it first appeared

It was at this time of year, back in August 1961, that the first effort at what was to become the Berlin Wall was hastily thrown up.  The city had already been divided for some years, but lots of people were nevertheless commuting from one side to the other. The first Wall put a stop to that.

The trigger for its construction was the massive outflow of refugees permanently moving from East to West. Not only was this extremely bad PR for Communism, it also represented a worrying leak of professional people and manpower skills that the GDR badly needed. However the publicly-stated reason for the first Wall was as a defence against likely western invasion. Of course.

The original construction was a thin brick zigzag, with outer wires, but over the years this was to expand. The Wall element as we know it today remained on the West German side, whilst on the East side a nomansland with watchtowers was created, behind two high fences with razor wire. Effectively creating four barriers.

At its peak, the Wall was 155km long, with 302 watchtowers and six bunkers. The exact number of deaths of those who tried to cross it is still hotly debated, but is somewhere between 136 and 245, and the first and last casualties were both women. The first one died when the Wall was in its infancy, and she tried to jump over it from her apartment window. The last died trying to cross the Wall in a homemade hot air balloon.

Ironically, today the Wall amounts to a huge source of revenue for Berlin, particularly for tourism. The most famous remaining section is the East Side Gallery, where it is covered in art. And the section by Checkpoint Charlie and the new Topography of Terror museum. But there are also pieces of Wall all over the world, from the Solidarity Museum in Gdansk, in Poland, to the men’s bathroom of the Main Street Station Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Daily Telegraph has a good listing of where you might be able to see it without leaving home.

And if you search for it on Ebay, you’ll find some 20 or 30 vendors willing to sell you a section, for anything up to £11,000. Can you be sure it is genuine? No.



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