August Object of the Month Blog

Objects of the month: Berlin ’89 poster by Gustav Brauer and Berlin Wall fragment

The 13th August 2016 marked the 55th anniversary of the construction of the Berlin Wall. This month we have two objects of the month, the first is a fragment of the Berlin Wall. The Wall was pulled down in November 1989 after dividing the city for twenty-eight years. Pieces of the wall were taken as memorabilia after Mauerspechte (wall-woodpeckers) pulled down sections using tools. The second object is a poster named ‘Berlin 89’ by Gustav Brauer; the poster features a photograph of a man holding a hammer in his hand, trying to knock down the Berlin Wall from West Germany.

Building the wall:

The Allied occupation of Germany began in June 1947. Both Germany and its capital, Berlin, were divided into for sectors. The East was given to the Soviet and the West divided between the US, Britain and France. The Yalta and Potsdam agreements divided Berlin into four also, despite it being in Soviet territory.

The Soviets attempted to drive America, Britain and France out of Berlin in 1948, but the blockade failed as the American’s, British and French supplied themselves with food via the air. Although the blockade lasted over a year, eventually the Soviets withdrew. Four years later in May 1952 the Soviets sealed the border between East and West Germany. Berlin alone remained accessible from the West and became the only ‘hole’ in the Iron Curtain.

Between 1948-1961 nearly 3,000,000 refugees left East Germany for the West via Berlin. The majority of these refugees were skilled workers such as doctors and teachers. In June and July 1961 alone 59,000 Eastern Germans fled. On 12th August 1961 2,400 refugees crossed the border, the largest number in a single day. That same night Premier Khrushchev gave the East German government permission to stop the flow of refugees from East to West. Sunday, August 13th became known as ‘Stacheldrahtsonntag (barbed wire Sunday)

Within two weeks a hundred mile makeshift wall made of barbed wire and concrete block was erected dividing one side of the city from the other. Eventually the makeshift wall was replaced with a 12-foot-tall, 4-foot-wide mass of reinforced concrete. To the East of the wall was the ‘Death Strip’: a stretch of sand to show footprints of trespassers, floodlights and vicious dogs, trip wire, machine guns and patrolling soldiers with orders to shoot escapees on sight. At least 171 people were killed trying to escape – but escape was not impossible and over 5,000 East Germans successfully managed to make it across the border, by scaling, tunnelling under and even flying the wall.

Taking down the wall:

The Helsinki Accords were signed on 1st August 1975 by 35 countries including the USSR, America, Britain and both East and West Germany. This promised universal human rights, including the right to freedom of movement. East German dissidents started to invoke the right to apply for exit visas. On 10th September 1989 the Hungarian government opened the border to Austria and thousands of Eastern German ‘tourists’ escaped via this route in the following weeks.

In Eastern Germany there were several peaceful demonstrations calling for change. On 4th September 1989 Leipzig in Saxony saw the first of the Monday Demonstrations. In these non-violent demonstrations the protesters began to demand rights such as freedom to elect a democratic government and travel to foreign countries. The following week 120,000 turned up and the next week the number more than doubled to 320,000. The Alexanderplatz Demonstration took place on 4th November 1989 for political reforms and against the German Democratic Republic. There were between half a million and a million protesters at Alexanderplatz and it was the pressure from these peaceful protests which led to the fall of Berlin Wall.

Finally, at midnight on the 9th November 1989 the gates between East and West Berlin were opened as it was announced that the citizens of East Germany could freely cross the border to the West. Over 2,000,000 people crossed the border that weekend. The wall was pulled down by both machine and Mauerspechte (wall woodpeckers) German citizens who chipped away at the wall using hammers and picks to take souvenirs and creating unofficial border crossings.

Nearly a year after the destruction of the Berlin Wall on 3rd October 1990 Germany was officially reunified.

Berlin wall fragment

The Museum:

You can find these objects of the month at the museum. The piece of the Berlin Wall is currently on display in the Responses to Conflict Room. While the poster is not currently on display if you would like to view the poster please ask. If you would like to come and visit the Peace Museum we are open every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 10:00am – 4:00pm. Admission is free!

The museum also offers lots of different educational workshops for school groups. To find out more you can contact Shannen Lang our Learning and Administration Officer at Shannen.lang@peacemuseum.org.uk or you could contact us by telephone: 01274 780241

By Philippa Hadwen

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