When in Berlin, you have to learn about the Berlin wall, and you know that we did just that. On our second day in Berlin, we went on a free tour that led us to one of the last remaining sections of the wall. The wall was surprisingly skinny and not that impressive. It amazed me that the small wall kept out so many people and did that much damage to one single country; until a few days later when we learned about the death strip. This particular museum was attached to the last remaining section of the death strip.
Anyone who lived within 5 kilometers from the wall on the east was kicked out of there and moved. If you got that close to the wall, then you were shot to the death by surrounding guards, but if you somehow survive that, you then have to climb over the first wall, which built out of concrete.
After making past that, you’d then have a 2 meters high signal fence to conquer. The entirety of the wall had electrical wire covering it, and if you touched the fenced, a silent alarm was sound in the watchtowers. The guards in the towers would immediately shoot to kill if you if there was any movement. Even if you got over this fence, you would then land on spikes. Falling on these spikes after a 2-meter drop can cause some serious and fatal injuries, so, OUCH!
Next, come the watchtowers and bunkers. Each tower would’ve had a 1000-watt searchlight, which from the top of the tower could be shined in any direction. Imagine having one of those things shined in your eyes, and then getting shot a couple of seconds later. (Not fun.) There were over 1,000 of these watchtowers out of the course of the 27-mile long wall. In addition to the robust light, the guards didn’t even have to leave the lookout to shoot. All they had to do was open a window, stick their gun out, and fire. It seems like they made it pretty effortless to kill any unwanted people.
Coming up next is the guard dogs. I guess even 50 years ago guard dogs were being used, isn’t that crazy! Towards the end of the wall, about 2,500 dogs worked at the wall and another 2,700 “horse dogs,” all patrolling the wall. They were mainly used to cover broken parts of fences, barricades, etc.. They also tied the dogs to a pole and then proceeded to hook them up to a100-meter long chain.
Alongside the patrol dogs, there was a patrol strip. The road consisted of two parallel bands, and each block was 0.75 meters wide and 2.5 meters long. These same blocks were also sometimes used for the foundation of towers. The road was around 130 kilometers long and fully paved throughout the whole thing.
Later on, came the Control strips, (I know, lots and lots of control/patrol roads). The control strips were strips of bare dirt that was always smooth and raked out, so guards could monitor any unauthorized tracks and escape attempts in the death strip. There was a primary “K6” and a secondary “K2” strip. The K6 was 6 meters wide, (no jumping over that), ran across the whole border, wall, or fence. In places where it met up with the road, the road was ripped out to make room for the strip, and in places where the strip was prone to escape attempts, bright lights stood on wooden posts making it easy for guards to see you. For example, rivers and streams were considered vulnerable. The “K2”, was only 2 meters wide and ran alongside the signal fence. The Germans adapted this technique after the Soviets used the control strips on the border of the USSR.
Subsequently, anti-vehicle barriers were built after one guy escaped by driving a tank through the walls and the entire death strip. The Germans dug ditches and used the rocks and dirt to physically blocked vehicles from passing through. These later were replaced with steel obstacles weighing over 500 kilograms. If that doesn’t stop a tank, then I don’t know what will. The ditches lined 829 kilometers of the wall and were only absent when there was a natural stream, river, or thick forests.
Finally comes the last obstacle before the final stretch, the outer border fences and walls. They started off being only 1.2 – 2.5 meters high. These, first generation fences, were not very strong by any means. Livestock and animals could go right through in the un-maintained spots. The second generation of this fence came about in the late 1950s. In the areas where there was a high number of escapes, the walls improved, there were now coils of barbed wire on the top and between other fences. Another fence replaced the secondary fence between 1960 and 1980. The third generation fence made out of metal mesh and the mesh was a whole new level of strength. You couldn’t pull it down quickly, tunnel under it, cut it with bolt cutters, or even use it as finger holds because the holes were sharp and pointy. Although this final fence was sturdy, it didn’t stretch throughout the whole length of the wall. Therefore, there were multiple gaps between sections.
Lined along these outer fences, were anti-personnel mines. The anti-personnel mines were installed as automatic shooters for anyone who reaches them. These devices consisted of 110 grams of TNT explosive. The machines went off if the tripwires were pulled or cut. (Again, not fun.) Fortunately, East Germans weren’t able to install them throughout the entire course of the wall because they were introduced to the wall in 1976 and then removed in 1984.
Lastly, the border wall, don Don DON!! Now, this is when the Germans got smart. At the top of this wall, there was a round block covering over the edges, so no one could use a grappling hook to get over it. I was, personally, really amazed that they came up with this. (Like, what?) This last wall reached a daunting height of 3.6 meters. Could you imagine making it through the death strip, to then have to climb an almost 12ft wall? That’s just crazy.