Little Bits of History

June 12

Posted in History by patriciahysell on June 12, 2017

1987: US President Ronald Reagan gives a speech at the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin. Between 1961 and 1989, a barrier wall was part of the Berlin landscape. Construction began on August 13, 1961 by the German Democratic Republic. The Berlin Wall separated West Berlin from surrounding East Germany and East Berlin. The wall grew with time until it stretched 96 miles and was 11.8 feet high at the concrete segments. Guard towers were included and looked over the “death strip” – an area patrolled to keep anyone from exiting from the Eastern Bloc into the free west. Before the Wall went up, 3.5 million East Germans escaped across the border between Eastern and Western Germany.

Reagan, President from 1981 to 1989, addressed the Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, General Secretary and Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union and later President of the Soviet Union on this day. But this was not Reagan’s first request to bring down the wall. In June 1982 while visiting West Berlin, he first posed the question as to why the wall was even needed. In 1986, after the Wall had stood for a quarter of a century, a West German newspaper posed a question to the President and asked for a timeline for dismantling the Wall. Reagan answered, “I call upon those responsible to dismantle it [today]”.

On June 11, 1987, about 50,000 people had demonstrated against Reagan and his presence, once again, in Berlin. While he was there, large portions of the city were closed off to prevent more anti-Reagan rallies. But it wasn’t just Germans upset with the outspoken President. Within his own administration, there were several senior staff members who were against his bringing up the Wall issue again as it might worsen already tense East-West relations. It was thought Reagan might offend
Gorbachev after years of attempting to create a better relationship between both the leaders and the countries they led. Speechwriters were told to leave the now iconic phrase in the speech.

Reagan arrived in Berlin earlier in the day. He and Nancy Reagan were taken to the Reichstag where they could see the wall from the balcony. At 2 PM, while standing in front of two panes of bulletproof glass, Reagan challenged his Soviet opponent to tear down the wall. The speech also called for an end to the arms race between the two nations. While it received little press at the time and was considered to be “absurd” or “openly provocative, war-mongering speech”, the Wall did eventually fall. Little if any credit goes to Reagan or this speech, but rather it was a series of political changes which allowed for the dismantling of the wall as well as what it stood for.

We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate.

Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!

As I looked out a moment ago from the Reichstag, that embodiment of German unity, I noticed words crudely spray-painted upon the wall, perhaps by a young Berliner, ‘This wall will fall. Beliefs become reality.’

Yes, across Europe, this wall will fall. For it cannot withstand faith; it cannot withstand truth. The wall cannot withstand freedom. – all from Ronald Reagan

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But Not the Last

Posted in History by patriciahysell on August 22, 2015
Ida Siekmann*

Ida Siekmann*

August 22, 1961: Ida Siekmann dies. She was born in Gorken, now part of Poland but then in West Prussia, in 1902. She moved to Berlin and worked there as a nurse. She lived at Bernauer Straße  48 in the center of Berlin, widowed at some prior time. Her sister also lived in Berlin, just a few blocks away on Lortzingstraße. She and her sister visited often, until August 1961. After World War II, Berlin was divided into four Allied sectors. While the street and sidewalk of Ida’s street was in the French sector, the frontage of the buildings on the southern side lay in the Soviet sector. They were part of East Berlin. Up until August 13, traffic between the two sectors was unregulated. But on that day, the Berlin Wall was built and Ida was no longer free to move.

On the day the Wall was erected, fifty households from the street fled to the West. Ida was not among them. With people fleeing, something needed to be done and on August 18, East German troops were ordered to brick up the entrances and windows on the ground floor on the southern side of the street. Members of the Combat Groups of the Working Class and police controlled everyone in the buildings. They monitored anyone entering the houses, even the residents who were often checked on as they walked the hallways of the tenements. Even so, many still fled. The West Berlin fire department was poised on the streets below and would hold “jumping sheets” to catch those willing to jump from higher windows.

On August 21, the entrances and widows of Bernauer Straße 48 were barred. Early in the morning on this date, Ida decided to leave. She lived on the fourth floor. She threw some blankets and some of her possessions out of the window of her apartment and then jumped. She did not give the firemen time to open the jumping sheet and she fell on the sidewalk, severely injured. She was taken to Lazarus Hospital, but died on the way. She was the first casualty of the Berlin Wall. She was buried on August 29 and in September, a memorial was erected at Bernauer Straße 48. Many have visited the site as homage to all the victims of the Wall. The houses on Bernauer Straße were torn down in 1963 and replaced by a concrete wall.

The Wall remained in place for decades, cutting off West Berlin from surrounding East Germany and East Berlin. The barrier eventually included guard towers placed along the wall and there was a wide area, dubbed the “death strip” that contained many defenses. The purpose of the wall, according to the Soviets, was to protect their people from building their own socialist state in East Germany. In practice, it was to prevent emigration and defection. It’s official name was the Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart while it was called the Wall of Shame by West Berlin mayor Willy Brandt. The 96.3 mile barrier was finally opened in 1989 and its demolition began in 1990 and was completed in 1992.

A society that does not recognise that each individual has values of his own which he is entitled to follow can have no respect for the dignity of the individual and cannot really know freedom. – Friedrich Hayek

Freedom, remember, is not the same as liberty. – Katherine Anne Porter

Every tyrant who has lived has believed in freedom – for himself. – Elbert Hubbard

Tyranny is always better organised than freedom. – Charles Peguy

Also on this day: “Excuse My Dust” – In 1893, Dorothy Parker was born.
The Temperature at which Paper Burns – In 1920, Ray Bradbury was born.
America’s Cup – In 1851, the first America’s Cup race was run.
Monsters – In 565, St. Columba turned away the Loch Ness Monster.
First American in Space – In 1963, Joe Walker piloted an X-15 rocket into space.

* “Idasiekmannbz” by Source (WP:NFCC#4). Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Idasiekmannbz.jpg#/media/File:Idasiekmannbz.jpg

Just Another Brick in the Wall

Posted in History by patriciahysell on August 13, 2010

Fortified Berlin Wall

August 13, 1961: In an effort to stop people from fleeing Communist East Berlin, the border between the two sections of the city is closed and a wall is constructed. At the end of World War II, Berlin was divided into four sectors – American, British, and French in the West and the Soviet sector in the East. A year later, a demarcation line was drawn by the Soviet Military administration dividing East from West. Within months, a pass was needed to cross the barrier.

By June 1948, currencies were no longer held in common. In 1949, West Germany was named Federal Republic of Germany while East Germany was called German Democratic Republic. By 1952, the border between the two Germanic states was closed. West Germans were freely permitted to enter East Germany, however the reverse was not true. With increasing defection to the West, the Soviets closed the border.

The Iron Curtain, a Soviet ideological border that attained concrete status in the Berlin Wall, sealed off Communistic countries in the East. The term “Iron Curtain” was used by Winston Churchill in 1946 as a warning against the encroachment of the Soviet Union into eastern Europe.

As the Cold War came to an end and Communism faltered in the USSR, the Berlin Wall was another symbol of futility. On November 9, 1989, the wall began to come down. It took weeks to dismantle. There had been around 5,000 successful escapes over the wall with 192 or 239 people killed trying to cross [reports vary] and many more injured in the attempt. Germany was reunited on October 3, 1990.

“Communism was overthrown by life, by thought, by dignity.” – Vaclav Havel

“If Karl, instead of writing a lot about Capital, made a lot of Capital, it would have been much better.” Henrietta Marx, Karl Marx’s mother

“Communism is like Prohibition, it’s a good idea but it won’t work.” – Will Rogers

“Workers of the world, forgive me.” – unknown, graffito on bust of Karl Marx

Also on this day, in 1934 Li’l Abner, a comic strip written by Al Capp, premieres.
Bonus Link: In 3114 BC, the world was created, according to the Mayan Long Count calendar
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