A fairytale of the Berlin Wall: August 13, 1961 and the Big Bad Line

Things had been kind of nervous in Berlin, since the day two months before when the leader of the GDR, Walter Ulbricht, had sort of spilled the beans in answer to a reporter’s question: The Allies had formed a state. Would the Soviets then ‘control’ the border?

“There are people in the west that think we are going to mobilize construction workers of the capital of the GDR to build a wall? I am not aware of such an order, because all our workers are primarily busy building housing,” he rattled off. “Nobody has any intention of building a wall.”

Yea…but we didn’t ask about a wall, Wally…oh-shit.


And lo…Sunday August 13, 1961, Berliners woke up to find a line had been drawn through the streets of their city. Along that line, men were smearing cement on bricks and others were erecting fences of barbed wire, still other’s stood around with machineguns making sure the new line wasn’t crossed.

“Fuck, those cocksuckers are not drawing a god damn line!?” could be heard mumbled under the breath of the average Berliner. But it was a line, a simple line drawn on maps secretly years before by Uncle Ulbricht in response to the ever-growing numbers of everybody leaving for the west, a line approved on maps in Moscow, one that had been months in planning, organizing the men and bricks and cement and barbed wire, and a line that suddenly began materializing out of the ground around 1am that August morning. It was a line that turned into a fence, and then became a wall, and eventually developed into a modern killzone, with motion sensors, surveillance cameras and robotic guns. A Frankenstein line created out of fear, that grew and mutated for 28 years, becoming ever more evil and ugly…until one day the line turned out to be just what it was: a line.

But where did the monster line come from? Why Berlin?

Just ask Korea, Vietnam and about half the countries in the world…The Allies of World War II had a bit of a squabble as they divided up the plunder of the victory. The former capital of Germany being a treasure desired by both capitalist and communist alike. While the Russians had technically taken Berlin to bring the to war to an end, much as the country was divided into 4 zones of control, one to each Ally, it was decided to divide the capital in four zones of control. The Soviets would get the part of the city they fought hardest for, Berlin north and east of the River Spree including the Old City center and the site of the Royal Palace, where Hitler had his HQ. In the west the French were up north, The Brits held the middle and the Americans occupied the south. Most of the borders simply followed Berlin’s 1921 neighborhood divisions. A zig-zag based on 1921 population, on the lay of streets, on the organic design of the city.

A line draw out by some banal postal administrators to divide up Berlin for delivery…lines vaguely based on the ownership of plots of land in early Berlin…had become THE border between East and West, the front line between Soviet Communism and American Capitalism. One side of the line was colored Blue, the other side was colored Red, and both sides were then soaked in propaganda, to be defined by the trite and bullshit geopolitics of three decades.

But what all these line-lovers did not realize, or didn’t care, was this was just some arbitrary line, that some land surveyor had come up with…it had nothing to do with reality until some assholes agreed it would. NOBODY MINDED THAT LINE. It didn’t actually separate the continual flow of life that had always occurred from one ‘side’ to the ‘other side.’ They weren’t actually sides. Just look at the fucking line. It looks like a child’s scribblings.

Scribblings through the middle of a city…what was solid uninterupted humans across a great plane where a river makes a bend, much like many other cities. Long ago communities had popped up, eventually growing together…the owners of the land had draw lines in places, but the people settle everywhere they could. Families lived strewn about the city. Especially after the war and decent housing got scarce.

Line gone bad

But then suddenly the politicians waved their magic wands to make pretend the line was real. The line was so damn important, the state might fail if the people didn’t respect the line!

“Jesus and Mary. Important fucking line,” said the Berliner sarcastically. So the politicians had to make it hard to cross.

“Na un?” (yea, and?) asked the Berliner and kept crossing, even if running and jumping were required.

So they built the walls higher.

“Na un?” asked the Berliner and kept crossing, so tunneling and flying balloons and ramming a car through the gate were necessary? Fuck it.

So the idiots spent million after million making the line uncrossable, they turned it eventually into a Starwars-looking fortress wall, with robot guns and video and trip wires.

“Jeht mir nuschts an!” (whatever!) said the Berliner , and they started flying fucking airplanes over the line, dug tunnels longer and deeper. spent years planning out intricate plots to escape. One guy fucking swam away on the Baltic Sea, and narrowly made it.

But the line bureaucrats of the German Democratic Republic were never discouraged. They modernized again and again and again. (Kind of makes you feel sorry for the idiots, really)

And on and on and on it went, until one day…

The people eventually got tired of this bullshit game. The people, having been so patient with their stupid state, finally had had enough. The charade was too much eventually. Too fucking stupid. The line didn’t even exist!!!!

So they dropped all their shit and just crossed the fucking line. And the state went poof!

The moral of the story is lines are for maps and should stay symbolic. Oh, and don’t trust politicians!

Here’s a few pictures of the wall memorial service today and the local news coverage:

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About Andrew Flohr-Spence

Something about the sound and the word. Was a singer/bassist for five years, a German major for five, an English teacher in Germany for another five, then a journalism major in Denver for 5 more, and now I'm back in Berlin (for a while, I intend).
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