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Sunday May 17th, 2015

Citystay Travel Tips: Berlin’s History Part II

Want to know more about Berlin’s intriguing history? Check out Part II of Citystay’s Berlin History special!

 

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Under the 1944 London Protocol, the Allies divided the city into four parts: the Northwest (Wedding and Reinickendorf) was controlled by France, the West (Charlottenburg, Tiergarten and Spandau) by Great Britain, The Southwest (Zehlendorf, Steglitz, Wilmersdorf, Tempelhof, Kreuzberg, and Nuekolln) by the USA, and the East (Mitte, Prenzlauer Berg, Friedrichshain, Treptow and Kopenick) by the Soviet Union.

The city became object of the Soviet-American conflict, when the Americans refused to grant war reparations and the currency reform that took place without the Soviet approval. Thus, on June 26, 1948, the Soviets blocked ground access to West Berlin, which was known as the “Berlin Blockade.” It resulted with the Western Allies providing the Western sector with ‘candy bombers’ known as the “die Luftbrücke” (air bridge). The blockade ended on May 11, 1949. However, this did not end the separation of Berlin, as the communist East German began to (secretly) build a wall that would physically separate the Eastern and Western parts of the city. The Western sector of the city became enclosed in the wall, yet it was the Eastern section who had limited freedom. The wall was touted by the East German government as the “anti-fascist protection wall.” The wall was built in the early morning and left many people separated from their loved ones who ended up being stranded in the East. Travel was possible for those coming from the West, albeit heavily controlled checkpoints. However, for Easterners, travel had become impossible.

There were numerous escapes to freedom, some provoking creative plots such as the man who passed dressed in cow hide and a family who swung themselves through a clothes line. However, despite the few successful attempts (5,000), there were also many fatal ones; wherein 192 people were killed trying to cross and an estimated 200 were seriously injured.

It finally came to an end on November 9, 1989 due to a ‘happy accident,’ wherein Politburo member Günter Schabowski came to a televised press conference unprepared for questions regarding the wall. He ended up giving a misleading press statement wherein he announced that “all travel restrictions had been lifted.” When asked when this move would take effect, the disoriented Schabowski responded with “right away.” He was actually referring to the date on his document, which had nothing to do with the restrictions. Upon hearing the news, tens of thousands of people rushed to the wall and passed through the border. The very first man to climb the wall stated that it was a rush of fate, and when the blast of water hit him, he had at first thought that he had been shot. When he realized that it was just water, he propelled himself over and many others followed. A mass of partying, tears, champagne, and cheers ensued. West Berliners welcomed the children from the East with candies and toys, while many Easterners rushed to watch their very first international movie–the 1989 hit, Dirty Dancing. On this eve, the city was once again united.

From then on, things have begun to look up for this scarred city. In 1990, Berlin became a separate city-state and Pink Floyd performed “The Wall” in Potsdamer Platz. The Bundestag, the German Parliament, moved the German capital back from Bonn to Berlin in June 1991.

At present, there are still a few political problems and scandals, yet its grim past is firmly, and undoubtedly far behind. Since the reaunification, most of Berlin’s Western districts have been changed, most predominantly that of the Mitte district. The East however has taken its own life, with much of the ‘grungy’ sections becoming hotbeds for the city’s young and emerging artists, performers, literati, and partygoers. Its constantly changing landscape potrays Berlin’s swift development as a metropolitan hub and a cultural, economic, and artistic powerhouse.