The Berlin Wall: Secrets & Facts That Weren’t Mentioned In History Class

After the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961, chaos quickly erupted throughout the eastern part of the city. It created animosity and dissension throughout Germany and surrounding areas. Life in eastern Berlin became increasingly more difficult for residents.

From feeling families and checkpoints to 57 tunnels designed for a single purpose, here are some interesting facts about the Berlin Wall history teachers failed to mention.

No In and Out Privileges

Quite simply put, the Berlin Wall was built to keep citizens from leaving the communist government’s jurisdiction, keeping them within the city.

Germany / GDR, Berlin: The fall of the wall. People walking through a hole of the wall at Bernauer Strasse / Eberswalder Strasse.
Günter Peters/ullstein bild via Getty Images
Günter Peters/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Checkpoints were set up for declaring people, mostly officials, clear to pass. Indeed the wall served as quite the deterrent because people rightly believed oppressed living was better than the alternative.

Many Fled by Any Means Necessary

Families literally risked life and limb by attempting dangerous escapes to the other side of the wall.

Child escaping over the wall
Steve Eason/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Steve Eason/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The types of ways people tried to flee were as dangerous as the consequences of getting caught by the authorities. From hiding in car trunks to climbing over it, the wall fueled people’s desperation.

Hardly Anyone Was Allowed To Leave

There was no discrimination in terms of entry and exiting a checkpoint. Most reasons did not meet the unwritten requirements, regardless of who gave them or their age.

Escaping
Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

With nothing more than the clothes on their backs, countless people approached checkpoints peacefully, trying to reason with authorities, only to get rejected.

Nowhere to Run, Nowhere to Hide

Nowhere in the East was without usual sightings of soldiers, weapons, and numerous watchtowers, all designed to monitor and control the movement of everyone.

Berlin Wall watchtower
ullstein bild via Getty Images
ullstein bild via Getty Images

Watchtowers were more than observatories because they housed prisoners and facilitated military movements. Soldiers used binoculars to spot and shoot people trying to escape the East.

Even The East Soldiers Who Built The Wall Wanted Out

Construction of the wall was at the hands of the soldiers, but not all of them supported what the wall symbolized.

Berlin Wall soldiers
Konrad Giehr/picture alliance via Getty Images
Konrad Giehr/picture alliance via Getty Images

To these soldiers, keeping people against their will was not the right thing to do. Without fear of punishment, it was a regular sight to see soldiers leaving for the Democratic West.

Decades of Misery And Suffering For Families

Before the wall, people were free to go about their normal routines. Sadly, visiting family or other excursions were limited by the wall.

People looking over Berlin Wall
Getty Images/Archive
Getty Images/Archive

Families separated by the structure of cement and barbed wire needed to invent creative ways to see each other. Even mothers were separated from their children.

People Picked Which Battles To Fight

Mothers and grandparents were not able to see their children and grandchildren for decades. In some cases, traveling by bus was near impossible because the transportation services were on the western side of the wall.

Woman waving from Eastside
Alex Waidmann/ullstein bild via Getty Images
Alex Waidmann/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Sadly, they were stuck with no way to escape to the western side of the wall.

Death And Mourning Were Routine

Imagine the harsh reality of not being allowed to see your family. Families were separated for years, even decades.

Mourners lay memorial cross/wreath
Konrad Giehr/picture alliance via Getty Images
Konrad Giehr/picture alliance via Getty Images

Escaping the wall was the only recourse they saw to remedy that. The sight of flowers mourning the death of those who tried fleeing was a common occurrence on the eastern side of the wall.

Soldiers Continued Smiling While Enforcing The Laws

Not everyone in Berlin was saddened by the construction of the wall. Some soldiers happily continued to enforce and monitor checkpoints but did so with smiles on their faces.

East German guards
Stephen Jaffe/Getty Images
Stephen Jaffe/Getty Images

Those smiles beamed outside the Brandenburg Gate, a passage to freedom from the wall. The gate remains today as a historical reminder.

Families Risked Their Lives For Freedom

It was so paramount to escape to freedom for families trapped behind the wall that risking life and limb was a secondary thought.

Escape attempt from Eastside
Alex Waidmann/ullstein bild via Getty Images
Alex Waidmann/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Attempts to flee brought detainment or worse. People dropped their children from windows to safety nets or tried jumping over the wall, hoping to gain their freedom from the east.

President Nixon Felt A Call Of Duty When Visiting The Wall

President Richard Nixon visited the Berlin Wall to see for himself the devastation and harm that it brought.

President Richard Nixon at Berlin Wall
James Andanson/Sygma via Getty Images
James Andanson/Sygma via Getty Images

Nixon personally assured the people on the Eastside of the wall that it was only a physical barrier. The President believed that peace could be achieved through understanding the situation and war around them.

Death Itself Was No Deterrent

Hundreds lost their lives from trying to escape the wall or at the hands of a soldier. Anyone that survived was thought to have cheated death because of the danger involved.

People fleeing East Berlin
dpa/picture alliance via Getty Images
dpa/picture alliance via Getty Images

The wall was solid concrete topped with barbed wire that cut mothers, children, businessmen, and soldiers without discrimination.

Checkpoints Monitored Escapes By Stopping Traffic

Eastside inspectors paid close attention out of concern for people fleeing. Within Berlin, everyone traveling had to have proper identification and pass personal judgment standards.

Berlin Wall checkpoint
THIERRY ORBAN/Sygma via Getty Images
THIERRY ORBAN/Sygma via Getty Images

More often than not, authoritative and diplomatic figures were granted permission. That being said, general citizens and civilians were rarely granted permission to pass through.

Vice President George Bush Sought Unity By Visiting The Wall

The then-U.S. Vice President George Bush toured the Eastside of the wall, accompanied by officials, to witness the wall’s harmful impact on society.

George W. Bush with piece of Berlin Wall
© CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
© CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

Bush strongly expressed his view that the wall threatened hopes of a unified Germany. Bush joined a long list of U.S. dignitaries believing the wall hindered the war’s resolution.

Creativity Of Escapes Enhanced Its Dangers

As mentioned, there was no risk dangerous enough in pursuit of freedom. The creativity of the escapes only personified the desperation of the people trapped behind the wall.

Tunnel escape
United States Information Agency/PhotoQuest/Getty Images
United States Information Agency/PhotoQuest/Getty Images

For example, fishing lines, wooden pulleys, and steel cables pulled by one man’s brother helped a pair of men to their freedom.

Strategic Planning Went Into Escaping The Wall

Only the survivors of the dangerously creative escapes saw a future with a positive outcome. Risking suffocation by sneaking to the Westside in car trunks was commonplace and required little planning.

People escaping East Berlin in a car trunk
Chris Hoffmann/picture alliance via Getty Images
Chris Hoffmann/picture alliance via Getty Images

Underground tunnels were even built beneath an old railway station with human-sized holes, a beacon for those trying to gain their freedom.

Freedom Was The Result Of Surviving The Tunnels

If a person survived fleeing from the Eastside, it was a success. The possibility of reaching the Westside alive outweighed any risk of harm.

Reconstructed escape tunnel
TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP via Getty Images
TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP via Getty Images

To people smuggled in car trunks, those launching themselves over the wall or going underneath it, survival equaled freedom. Seventeen Family members passed through before the tunnel underneath the train station was discovered.

More Than 57 Tunnels Were Built For Escape Under The Wall

Teams of people, including a 20-student team, built tunnels under the wall. Traveling through the tunnels was full of desperation that the wall created among the German people.

Escape tunnel from East Berlin
Fuchs/Three Lions/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Fuchs/Three Lions/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The successful journey to the Westside was an escape to democracy. Tunnel builders passed through and then returned to bring their families.

Western Patrols Kept A Watchful Eye On Berlin

Tensions between the West and the East sides caused by the wall did not go unnoticed by the U.S. government.

US troops patrolling Berlin Wall
von der Becke/ullstein bild via Getty Images
von der Becke/ullstein bild via Getty Images

U.S. soldiers were stationed in Germany and patrolled the perimeter of the wall. Dangerous traps and armed soldiers were everywhere, and U.S. soldiers made their presence known and obvious to the civilians.

The Wall Was Armed With More Than Just Soldiers

Only the originality of the various ways to prevent escape could rival the creativity of the attempts themselves.

Guards and dogs of Berlin Wall
Wieczorekullstein bild via Getty Images
Wieczorekullstein bild via Getty Images

One hundred and fifty meters of traps like beds of nails, electric fences, and mines surrounded the wall, anxiously awaiting anyone planning to escape. Soldiers had orders to shoot whoever at their discretion.

East Soldiers Took Nothing For Granted

With 55,000 land mines scattered throughout the region, watchtowers, and other traps, people were not deterred from fleeing the Communist eastside of the wall.

Tank traps and guards of Berlin Wall
Hensel/ullstein bild via Getty Images
Hensel/ullstein bild via Getty Images

People seemingly preferred risking harm to themselves over getting caught by an armed soldier. Suspicious people or activities were snuffed out by the soldiers at their discretion.

The Berlin Wall Was Made From The Streets Of Berlin

Early constructs of the wall were made from the ruins and broken pieces of streets in Berlin. Soldiers piled up whatever they could find to create a temporary barrier.

Soldiers building Berlin Wall
Keystone/Getty Images
Keystone/Getty Images

It was a soldier’s duty to help with construction, and soldiers also faced execution for escape attempts to the Westside.

The Economy Suffered The Effects Of The Wall

The construction of the wall focused every resource on keeping people trapped in the Communist East. One thing the Soviet Union did not think about, though, was how the economy would be impacted.

East Berlin post van
Lehnartz/ullstein bild via Getty Images
Lehnartz/ullstein bild via Getty Images

The allies helped power the West making them infinitely more economically secure. A struggling Eastern economy led to political turmoil.

Checkpoint Charlie Presented A Reality Of Hope

On the rare occasion that someone actually had suitable identification for the soldiers checking them, it was often at Checkpoint Charlie.

Checkpoint Charlie
Express Newspapers/Getty Images
Express Newspapers/Getty Images

Eastern allies risked punishment of their own in order to help people escape to the West. Checkpoint Charlie uniquely lacked the usual traps, barbed wire, and explosives, making it easier for people to cross the border.

The Escape To The Westside Had No Age Limits

Once the tunnels were built at the hands of the young and fearless, people of all ages passed through trying to reach the Westside.

75 year old woman being helped in tunnel
Fuchs/Three Lions/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Fuchs/Three Lions/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Seniors, children, and women were also among those attempting elaborate escapes. Tunnels, being smuggled, or climbing over the wall, were attempted by those of all ages.

Ronald Reagan Significantly Helped The Falling Of The Wall

U.S. President Ronald Reagan played a major role in the demise of the Berlin Wall. Reagan’s good relationship with Eastern members of government aided his pleas for tearing down the wall.

Ronald Reagan speech to tear wall down
Getty Images/Archive
Getty Images/Archive

Reagan’s speech was filmed in front of the wall for all to see and hear. The Cold War ended soon after the wall’s demise.

An Announcement Was Made Before The Wall Came Down

For nearly three decades, people endured pain and suffering caused by the presence of the wall. Years of Western pressure and influence forced the East to consider tearing the wall down.

Demolition of the Berlin Wall
dpa Stackelberg/picture alliance via Getty Images
dpa Stackelberg/picture alliance via Getty Images

A Socialist Official prematurely announced freedom to pass through the wall before the official announcement to tear the wall down was made.

The Fall Of The Wall Produced Numerous Crossing Points

Checkpoints quickly turned into places where people could freely cross and be reunited with freedom and loved ones. Decades of oppression, hundreds of lives imprisoned or lost, were suddenly nothing but distant memories.

Berlin Wall crossing point
Getty Images/Archive
Getty Images/Archive

People made their way across however they could. Potsdamer Platz famously saw millions of families reunite.

Pieces Of The Wall Are For Sale On eBay

People used axes, picks, chisels, and anything else to tear down the wall. The wall symbolized decades of oppression, strife, and conflict, so feelings of sentiment were only natural.

Destruction of the Berlin Wall in Berlin, Germany on February 20, 1990-
Patrick PIEL/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
Patrick PIEL/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Certified parts of the wall sell online. Vegas even made casino washrooms from what remained of the infamous wall.

Biking And Walking Trails Now Exist In Place Of The Wall

In 2006, trails were constructed, and signs were put up on the road where the Berlin Wall once stood, keeping the Eastern and Western parts of Berlin separate from one another.

Cyclist at Berlin Wall
Fabian Sommer/picture alliance via Getty Images
Fabian Sommer/picture alliance via Getty Images

Now, people reflect on the memories of soldiers once present in that area as they look at signs and paths leading to various parts of the city.