The Berlin Wall was a massive concrete barrier in and around Berlin, Germany, that physically and ideologically divided Berlin into East Berlin and West Berlin from 1961 to 1989, during the era of the Cold War. West Berlin was a geographical loophole through which thousands of East Germans fled to the democratic West. In response to this, the Communist East German authorities built a wall that encircled West Berlin. Take a look below for 30 more fascinating and interesting facts about the fall of the Berlin Wall.
1. The wall was built overnight on August 13, 1961. It was built out of barbed wire and cinder blocks, but was quickly replaced by a series of concrete walls that were up to 5 meters, or 15 feet, in height, topped with barbed wire and guarded with watchtowers, gun emplacements and mines.
2. David Bowie performed at the Berlin Wall, while East Germans gathered to listen behind. He said, “And we would hear them cheering and singing along from the other side. God, even not I get choked up. It was breaking my heart. I’d never done anything like that in my life, and I guess I never will again.”
3. Peter Fechter was an 18 year old East German who was shot by East German troops when he tried to cross the wall. He was caught in barbed wire and bled to death in front of the world’s media as police tried to throw him bandages.
4. In 1963, an East German soldier named Wolfgang Engels stole and tank and tried to drive it through the Berlin Wall to try and escape.
5. The Berlin Wall was torn down by citizens who were empowered when an East German spokesman misspoke at a press conference and said that there were immediate border crossing privileges for every citizen.
6. More than 3 million East Germans escaped to West Germany between 1945 and 1961, most of them going through the loophole of Berlin.
7. 50,000 people from Berlin, known as Grenzgaenger, crossed each day to work in the West, receiving larger salaries, while living in subsidized housing and not contributing anything to the Eastern economy. Also, due to its power to purchase a wider range of consumer goods, the Western Deutsche mark was worth 4 to 6 times as much as the Eastern Deutsche mark.
8. East Germany created its own cola drink called Vita-Cola. It’s sales almost disappeared after the fall of the Berlin Wall brought Coke and Pepsi into the East. However, it’s still the most popular cola in Thuringia, making the German state one of the only places in the world where Coca-Cola isn’t the leader in the marketplace.
9. The Newseum in Washington D.C. has the biggest portion of the Berlin Wall outside of Germany.
10. In September, 1989, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher pleaded with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev to not let the Berlin Wall fall and said that she wanted Gorbachev to do what he had to to stop it.
11. Anatoliy Golitsyn was a KGB agent who defected to the United STates in 1961. According to him, the Soviets had planned a long term deception to lull the West into a false sense of security by appearing to break apart the Berlin Wall, to form the European Union and let the United States get itself in the massive debt that it finds itself in currently.
12. For the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, 8,000 glowing balloons were installed along the 10 miles of the site of the former East and West barrier.
13. There were 302 observation towers, 259 dog runs, 20 bunkers and more than 11,000 soldiers lining up the Berlin Wall.
14. The last person who died at the Berlin Wall, attempted to escape in a hot air balloon but fell to his death on March 8, 1989.
15. West Germans and citizens of other countries could visit East Germany after applying for a visa at an East German embassy several weeks in advance.
16. On July 19, 1988, 16 months before the Berlin Wall came down, Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band played Rocking the Wall, which was a live concert in East Berlin, which was attended by 300,000 people and broadcasted o television.
17. Contrary to popular belief, the Berlin Wall’s actual demolition didn’t begin until the summer of 1990 and continued until 1992.
18. One of the most accomplished American female recurve archers, Erika Eiffel, is married to the Eiffel Tower, dated her bow, and had a decades long “relationship” with the Berlin Wall.
19. Usain Bolt owns a 3 ton part of the Berlin Wall.
20. The Soviet Union added tens of thousands of trip wired machine guns inside the inner section of the Berlin Wall to prevent people in the East from escaping. In 1983, the Soviets agreed to dismantle the machine guns in exchange for a 2 billion Deutsche mark loan from West Germany.
21. The statue of Ronald Reagan in the United States Capitol building has bits of the Berlin Wall in it.
22. When John F. Kennedy heard the news that the communists had walled off East Berlin instead of cutting off West Berlin, he told his aide, “It’s not a very nice solution, but a wall is a hell of a lot better than a war. This is the end of the Berlin crisis. The other side panicked, not we. We’re going to do nothing now because there is no alternative except war.”
23. Roswell, New Mexico was given a piece of the Berlin Wall for its treatment of World War II German Prisoners of War.
24. Holger Bethke shot an arrow from an attic over the Berlin Wall. Then, he used a pulley to ride across to West Germany. Somehow, no guards saw him.
25. The 3 Bethke brothers escaped East Berlin individually. The first, Ingo, used an air mattress to float to the West. Holger used the arrow and zip line. The third brother, Egbert, was rescued by Ingo and Holger flying ultralight planes going into East Germany.
26. A college dropout, Thierry Noir in 1984 used graffiti to pioneer the trend of painting the Berlin Wall as a form of protest. He climbed through small holes to avoid gunfire as he painted 5 kilometers of both the West and East sides of the Berlin Wall.
27. The Berlin Wall wasn’t just a single preconceived structure. It was a series of 4 different walls, starting with two wire fences, and then with two concrete walls. The last of the walls, the iconic Grenzmauer 75, was made up of the graffitied concrete blocks that are commonly associated with the Berlin Wall today.
28. Some parts of the Grenzmauer 75 were strategically weakened in certain places to allow the Soviets to drive their tanks through to the Western side.
29. In the first 2 years of the walls existence, before the walls and locks needed several people to open them, more than 1,300 GDR uniformed men defected to West Germany.
30. 9 months after the Berlin Wall fell, birth rates in East Germany fell by 40% and didn’t recover until 1994, as people underwent a personal and economic transition that failed to patch the euphoria of the first few hours.