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
His father jumped after him:
His mother had jumped before him:
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:
Comparison of the area 1963 vs 2011 – (the poles mark the location of the old apartment building that stood on the location in 1961):
Watching the construction of the Berlin Wall, West Berlin; ca. 1962.
The 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.
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”.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.)