Tuesday, August 19, 2008


Day 161
The Italian girls in my room had to be up really early and it took me some time to get back to sleep after they left. They had been friendly, they just didn’t really speak any English so we couldn’t really get to know one another or hang out. By the time I woke up again it was a little later than I had expected.

Today was my last day in Berlin, I had to do something good. I decided to go to the Check Point Charlie Museum. I had been here before but I remembered thinking that there was just too much to see in one visit and that I wanted to return at some point. This was a check point between east and west Berlin. Shortly after the erection of the Berlin Wall a standoff occurred between U.S. and Soviet tanks on either side of Checkpoint Charlie. It began on 22nd October as a dispute over whether East German guards were authorized to examine the travel documents of a U.S. diplomat passing through to East Berlin. By October 27th, 10 Soviet and an equal number of American tanks stood 100 meters apart on either side of the checkpoint. The stand-off ended peacefully on October 28th. I guess this is why this is the most well known check point today.

After WWII Germany was split up. The western allies (not Russia) thought that it was unfair for Berlin to go completely to the USSR so half of it was given to them despite its eastern Germany location. At first the GDR tried to win the west Berliners over to their lifestyle. They lowered the prices on goods to try and get people to shop in eastern stores. This didn’t work.

From June of 1945 to May 1949 a blockade was put on goods from the west. Everything was airlifted in at a rate of a drop off every three minutes.

The GDR was anti west and blamed the 1950 failed potato crop on sabotage. There were protests by both sides. At one point there were warning sides in west Berlin train stations that if you got on a train going the wrong way you were putting your personal freedoms at risk.

The division of Germany tore families apart. By the early 60’s over 2.5 million people had fled to the west. The GDR put a stop to this exodus by building the wall. This didn’t stop people from trying to escape. Most of the museum is about this. Often GDR guards would only shoot to miss those scaling the walls despite the financial gain possible from catching people. Motion detectors were installed on the wall for some years. If they were tripped up to 50 pieces of metal shrapnel would be fired. Most of the people who ran into these died.

Some people managed to literally drive through the wall, but soon it was too heavily fortified for this. About 800 people made it through with fake passports that read United Nations on them. There was no such thing as a UN passport. Some people painstakingly put together US army uniforms and practiced their American accents to get through.

Often the people who filled out the paperwork to leave legally were arrested. This happened to one woman who wanted to join her husband in West Germany. Her daughters were put into foster care. It took her 6 years to get her freedom and her children back.

Some of the ways people did escape were really creative. A few women where hidden in suitcases. One was even 5’7! Others hid in specially reconstructed cars. Some tried to jump across, but this just caused the windows facing the wall to be bricked up. Those who attempted to swim across often didn’t make it, many of these were children. A few people successfully dug tunnels under the wall. This included a group of people in which the youngest was 85.

The museum ends with the wall being torn down Germany being reunited. This museum is huge and took me hours to get though. Even so, I don’t feel like I have really seen it all.

After dinner I spent some time at the internet café before doing a bit of packing and going to bed.

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