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Wednesday, September 1, 2021

walls do not make permanent barrier - History teaches us

Tamil movie ‘Madras’ centered around a wall in the area – two factions laying claim to dominance, the subsequent chaos, killing and turmoil that followed. A Wall causing so much of ill-will – History is replete with incidents.  Middle distance runner Sigrun Wodars won the gold medal over 800 metres at the 1988 Seoul Olympics but when she came back trying to repeat her performance in Barcelona – there were some issues, which perhaps none else have had to face !!

Do you know the history behind the country whose  official name was Deutsche Demokratische Republik (German Democratic Republic), usually abbreviated to GDR. Western media  initially avoided the official name and its abbreviation, instead using terms like Ostzone (Eastern Zone),  Sowjetische Besatzungszone (Soviet Occupation Zone; often abbreviated to SBZ) and sogenannte DDR  and have you heard of   Erich Ernst Paul Honecker, a communist politician  !!

Barbed Wire Sunday (Stacheldrahtsonntag), is the name given to this day 60 years ago – (13 August 1961), when the East German military and police closed the border between East and West Berlin and began the construction of what would become of the Berlin Wall. The intention of closing the border was to prevent the migration of  their own country men to the West. That is dose of communism what History has !! Prior to the establishment of the wall, approximately 3.5 million (or 20% of the population) East German citizens defected to West Germany, many through the Berlin border due to its lack of security. This posed a major issue to the government as it was losing its substantial amounts of not just its workforce but also its intellectuals.

The Potsdam Agreement was the 1 Aug 1945 agreement between three of the Allies of World War II, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the Soviet Union. It concerned the military occupation and reconstruction of Germany, its borders, and the entire European Theatre of War territory. It also addressed Germany's demilitarisation, reparations, the prosecution of war criminals and the mass expulsion of ethnic Germans from various parts of Europe. Executed as a communiqué, the agreement was not a peace treaty according to international law, although it created accomplished facts. It was superseded by the Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany signed on 12 Sept 1990.

The building of the Berlin Wall in August 1961 divided families and neighbourhoods in what had been the capital of Germany. The Wall represented a uniquely squalid, violent, and ultimately futile, episode in the post-war world. – and after decades, the World, the Country, the Communist rulers – all understood  that the subsequent international crisis, which was especially intense during the summer and autumn of 1961, threatened the world with the risk of a military conflict, one that seemed as if it could escalate at any time into nuclear confrontation between the US and the Soviet Union would end up achieving nothing, literally nothing.  To the media, clearly it was  the noble democracies vainly opposing yet another Communist atrocity ! and people loathed the wall.  

The Berlin Wall ~ a physical barrier - Berliner Mauer, was a guarded concrete barrier that physically and ideologically divided Berlin from 1961 to 1989.  Construction of the wall was commenced by the German Democratic Republic (GDR, East Germany) on 13 August 1961. The Wall cut off West Berlin from surrounding East Germany, including East Berlin. The barrier included guard towers placed along large concrete walls, accompanied by a wide area (later known as the "death strip") that contained anti-vehicle trenches, beds of nails and other defenses. The Eastern Bloc portrayed the Wall as protecting its population from fascist elements conspiring to prevent the "will of the people" from building a socialist state in East Germany.

GDR authorities officially referred to the Berlin Wall as the Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart -while to the West it simply  was "Wall of Shame", a term coined by mayor Willy Brandt in reference to the Wall's restriction on freedom of movement.  Along with the separate and much longer Inner German border (IGB), which demarcated the border between East and West Germany, it came to symbolize physically the "Iron Curtain" that separated Western Europe and the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War. Before the Wall's erection, 3.5 million East Germans circumvented Eastern Bloc emigration restrictions and defected from the GDR, many by crossing over the border from East Berlin into West Berlin; from there they could then travel to West Germany and to other Western European countries. Between 1961 and 1989, the Wall prevented almost all such emigration. During this period, over 100,000 attempted to escape, and over 5,000 people succeeded in escaping over the Wall, with an estimated death toll above 200.

In 1989, a series of revolutions in nearby Eastern Bloc countries—in Poland and Hungary in particular—caused a chain reaction in East Germany.  In particular, the Pan-European Picnic in August 1989 set in motion a peaceful development during which the Iron Curtain largely broke, the rulers in the East came under pressure, the Berlin Wall fell and finally the Eastern Bloc fell apart. After several weeks of civil unrest, the East German government announced on 9 November 1989 that all GDR citizens could visit West Germany and West Berlin. Crowds of East Germans crossed and climbed onto the Wall, joined by West Germans on the other side in a celebratory atmosphere. Over the next few weeks, euphoric people and souvenir hunters chipped away parts of the Wall. The Brandenburg Gate, a few meters from the Berlin Wall, was opened on 22 December 1989. The demolition of the Wall officially began on 13 June 1990 and was completed in 1994. The "fall of the Berlin Wall" paved the way for German reunification, which formally took place on 3 October 1990.

Erich Ernst Paul Honecker (1912 – 1994)   was an East German communist politician who led the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) from 1971 until shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall in October 1989. He held the posts of General Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) and Chairman of the National Defence Council.  As leader of East Germany, Honecker had close ties to the Soviet Union, which maintained a large army in the country.   Following German reunification in 1990, Honecker sought asylum in the Chilean embassy in Moscow, but was extradited back to Germany in 1992, after the fall of the Soviet Union, to stand trial for his role in the human rights abuses committed by the East German government. However, the proceedings were abandoned, as Honecker was suffering from terminal liver cancer. He was freed from custody to join his family in exile in Chile, where he died in May 1994.

Middle distance runner Sigrun Wodars-Grau won the gold medal over 800 metres representing  East Germany at the 1988 Seoul Olympics under the name of her first husband Wodars. In 1992 she started for the re-unified German team but was eliminated in the semifinals under the name of her second husband Grau. Sigrun Grau (née Ludwigs, then Wodars) ,  middle distance athlete started out as a 400 m hurdler in Schwerin and finished fourth at the 1981 European Junior Championships. She then switched clubs and changed to the 800 m like her new club mate, Christine Wachtel, who would also become her closest rival. In 1987, she lost seven out of eight times to Wachtel, but the race she won was the World Championships in Rome, defeating her in a close finish. The two repeated their one-two finish at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul. Wodars completed her set of titles by also winning the 1990 European Championships in Split, her last title. She divorced and took part as Sigrun Grau in the 1991 World Championships and the 1992 Olympics, reaching the semi-finals both times. She retired after the Barcelona Olympics and currently works as a physiotherapist.

History teaches us many lessons, if only we are keen to learn !

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
18th Aug 2021. 

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