Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.

Posts tagged “Berlin

Four-year-old Michael Finder of East Germany is tossed by his father into a net held by firemen across the border in West Berlin. The apartments were in East Berlin while their windows opened into West Berlin; October 7th, 1961

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Soviet Soldiers performing the Cossack dance after the defeat of Berlin, Germany; ca. May 1945

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Four-year-old Michael Finder of East Germany is tossed by his father into a net held by firemen across the border in West Berlin. The apartments were in East Berlin while their windows opened into West Berlin; October 7, 1961

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His father jumped after him:

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His mother had jumped before him:

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Escaping on Bernauer Strasse – video of the father jumping (at 00:46).


 

The soviet occupation zone in Germany (and Berlin) suffered from serious movements of educated individuals from their sectors toward the west throughout the 1950’s. This brain drain encouraged the Soviet Union to begin construction of a “Fascist Protection Wall” that would keep East Germans protected from “Fascism” that the Western Allies had “not eradicated in their sectors. ”

Of course, this wall was only really to keep East Germans from emigrating to the West. The wall later became the Berlin Wall.

These apartments were along Bernauer Straße (Bernauer Street) in Berlin. A line which saddled the border between East and West Berlin. After the wall was first constructed in 1961, many escape attempts were made through these apartment blocks. So much so, that the soviets had to brick up the windows and raid the apartments of the people who lived there. They evicted the people living in those apartments. So what you’re seeing when these people are jumping from the 4th floor are the people who are making a last ditch attempt at the West before all their (relatively safe) options out of East Berlin were gone for good.

These apartments were later torn down and the Berlin Wall that most of us picture in the news reels, and have chunks of in our museums all over the world, was erected.


 

Here are some historical photos for reference.

Mayor Willy Brandt taking a stroll along Bernauer St. You can clearly see the bricked up windows here; Winter 1963:

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Comparison of the area 1963 vs 2011 – (the poles mark the location of the old apartment building that stood on the location in 1961):

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Wrecked military vehicles in front of Brandenburg Gate during the Battle of Berlin; ca. 1945

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SA (Sturm Abteilung or “Brownshirts”) call for the boycott of Jewish shops in Friedrichstraße, Berlin; April 1, 1933.

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The sign says: “Germans, Attention! This shop is owned by Jews. Jews damage the German economy and pay their German employees starvation wages. The main owner is the Jew Nathan Schmidt.”


Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany riding through the streets of Berlin with Tsar Nicholas II of Russia; ca.1900

"How are ya, cousin!!!"

We shan’t see the likes of those mustaches again.

It would be tough to squeeze any more incompetent decision makers into this photo.


Germans returning after the Battle of Berlin gaze up at the new order of things, Berlin; ca. July 1945

 

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The text says: “Да здравствует победа англо-советско-американского боевого союза над немецко-фашистскими захватчиками”

Translation : “Long live the victory of the Anglo-Soviet-American battle union over the German-Fascist conquerors.”


Watching the construction of the Berlin Wall, West Berlin; ca. 1962.

1PfTGysThe Berlin Wall is so much more interesting than most people can imagine. Just the way it went up, the changes it went through its all totally surreal.

A soldier of the GDR jumping across the fence shortly before it was too late.
A soldier of the GDR jumping across the fence shortly before it was too late.

The “wall” literally went up overnight on a weekend. People went to bed in one city and woke up in either East or West Berlin. It was later beefed up and filled in, but the “state border” was closed to travel on the night of 12/13 August, 1961. Tales of people who were trapped on the wrong side of the wall are some of the most heartbreaking I’ve come across. Peter Wyden’s book “Wall” and Anna Funder’s book “Stasiland” interview people who were in that situation and do a pretty good job of expressing how horrifying it was and why people risked their lives to get back across to the West.

The Berlin Wall entirely surrounded West Berlin, so no you couldn’t “simply go around it”.

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The wall started being built in late 1961, but throughout the years it went through many changes. Wikipedia states there were four main versions of the wall:
1. Wire fence (1961)
2. Improved wire fence (1962–1965)
3. Concrete wall (1965–1975)
4. Grenzmauer 75 (Border Wall 75) (1975–1989)

(There is an intact part of the Wall on Bernauerstrasse with a large open air museum. They go through it all step by step explaining everything: people jumping out of windows, windows being bricked up, then people tunneling under, children stuck on one side, trip wires attached to machine guns, dogs patrolling on wires….its just so crazy.)


A Female Mason Perched High above Berlin; ca. 1910

Gravity had not yet been invented at that time.

Gravity had not yet been invented at that time.

With the rise of industrialization, the number of German women who worked outside the home also increased. This usually meant factory work. But in some families with their own businesses, daughters also learned a trade so that they could help out: here, we see a master-mason’s daughter during the renovation work on the old city hall tower in Berlin.

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The Reichstag Fire, Berlin, (February 27, 1933.)

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We will never know the absolute truth of the events surrounding the Reichstag Fire. People have debated this for decades and have never managed to get any closer to the truth. Many say the Nazis started it, others say they had nothing to do with it.

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My interpretation of the facts is this:

The Reichstag Fire was started by a Dutch Anarchist named Marinus van der Lubbe, who snuck into the Reichstag on the night of the 27th of February, 1933. This act really isn’t all that surprising in hindsight. This was a period of considerable political violence across the country and one act of extreme vandalism should not necessarily be seen as “shocking”, although the effects of the event were to be enormous.

Now, many have claimed that either Marinus van der Lubbe was not responsible, and that it was actually a supporter of Hitler and the Nazi party who may or may not have been acting under orders, or that Marinus van der Lubbe was actually affiliated with the Nazi party.

Now, both of these assertions are perhaps plausible, but I would not say that they are necessarily likely, or that we should support them. The truth is that there is no evidence of either claim. There has never been a shred of credible evidence which points to either conclusion. As far as we know, and likely as far as we will ever know, Marinus van der Lubbe acted on his own instincts and to his own political ends. Any other assertions are essentially conspiracy claims. While they may be PLAUSIBLE, in my view they can not be legitimately entertained as possibilities from A HISTORICAL STANDPOINT because there is no proof of either alternative possibility being true. We can not, change the facts just because it makes the story better.

While it might sound more interesting to argue that the Nazis planned the Reichstag Fire and that they covertly hired a Dutch anarchist to carry it out, the lack of evidence pointing to this makes that claim entirely unreliable.

So who started it really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. The debate is, for all intents and purposes, irrelevant. What IS important is to look at how the Nazi party reacted to the event. The fact that Marinus van der Lubbe was unaffiliated with the Nazi party makes this story all the better. The Reichstag Fire and the subsequent passing of the Decree for the Protection of the People the very next day shows how cunning and ruthless the Nazi party was in their quest to power. They knew how to manipulate and control the volatile political culture which existed in Germany in the early 1930’s and this is a far more important distinction to make.

I think that the Nazi Party were not necessarily “puppet masters” who organized a chaotic burning of a governmental system, but rather master reactionaries who successfully seized an opportunity to wrestle more governmental and authoritative control from the Wiemar government, and it is this which makes the story of the Reichstag Fire all the more sinister and indeed all the more interesting.

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