When thinking about the Berlin Wall, one might wonder if it was possible to bypass it by simply going around it. This iconic structure that stood for almost three decades separated East and West Berlin during the Cold War. In this article, we will explore whether it was feasible to circumnavigate the Berlin Wall and the implications involved.
The Purpose and Construction of the Berlin Wall
Before we dive into the question itself, let’s briefly touch upon the reasons behind the construction of the Berlin Wall. Built by the German Democratic Republic (GDR), commonly known as East Germany, the wall was erected on August 13, 1961. Its purpose was to prevent East Berliners from fleeing to West Berlin, as the GDR faced a significant brain drain and loss of skilled workers to the more prosperous West.
The Structure of the Berlin Wall
The Berlin Wall consisted of more than just a simple barrier. It was a sophisticated obstacle system designed to prevent unauthorized crossing. The wall stretched 155 kilometers (96 miles) and incorporated various elements:
- Concrete Wall: The most recognizable part of the wall, this reinforced barrier was often several meters high.
- Death Strip: A cleared area next to the wall, booby-trapped with tripwires, trenches, and anti-vehicle obstacles.
- Fence: A secondary barrier consisting of mesh fencing, making crossing even more challenging.
- Watchtowers: Numerous watchtowers manned by armed guards provided constant surveillance.
- Border Patrols: East German border police patrolled the wall to apprehend potential escapees.
The Difficulty of Circumventing the Berlin Wall
Given the extensive fortification measures, attempting to go around the Berlin Wall undetected was incredibly challenging and dangerous. Here are a few reasons why:
Highly Secured Border:
East Germany implemented rigorous security measures to prevent unauthorized crossings. Guards patrolled the wall, ready to respond to any escape attempt. They also utilized trained dogs, floodlights, and tripwires to deter and catch escapees. Going around such a heavily secured border without being detected was practically impossible.
Aside from the fortified structure itself, the Berlin Wall traversed different terrains, including rivers, canals, and densely populated areas. These geographical features further limited the possibility of circumventing the wall.
Consequences and Risks:
Escaping across the Berlin Wall was not only difficult but also risked severe consequences. Guards were authorized to use lethal force, and many people lost their lives attempting to escape from East Berlin to the West. The risk of being caught, arrested, or even killed made circumventing the wall an incredibly dangerous undertaking.
Alternative Routes for Escape
While going around the Berlin Wall was a nearly insurmountable challenge, some individuals managed to escape by other means. Here are a couple of methods that some people successfully employed:
A few determined individuals dug secret tunnels beneath the wall. These tunnels provided a hidden route for escape, often leading to buildings or open spaces on the Western side. However, constructing these tunnels required careful planning, time, and a network of people willing to help.
Other Border Crossings:
Although the Berlin Wall was one of the most heavily fortified borders, it was not the only possible escape route from East Germany. People sometimes sought alternative crossings at less secured border sections, such as the border between Czechoslovakia and Austria.
In summary, it was not possible to merely go around the Berlin Wall due to its considerable fortifications, geographical obstacles, and the severe consequences it entailed. The GDR took extreme measures to prevent unauthorized crossings, resulting in a highly secured border. However, individuals who were determined to escape found other, often risky, methods to achieve their goal. The fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, marked the end of this division and the beginning of a new era for Berlin and Germany as a whole.