Monday, November 9, 2009
A momentous occasion occurred in Germany twenty years ago on this date in 1989, as the Berlin Wall fell.
After the conclusion of World War II, Berlin was divided into four sectors. The United States, the United Kingdom and France controlled what became West Berlin, while the Soviet Sector formed East Berlin. The Soviets also controlled the area of Germany that surrounded Berlin as well, leaving the three Allied Sectors of Berlin deep inside Soviet controlled Germany, 100 miles from the nearest Allied controlled part of Germany.
Growing differences between the former allies against Nazi Germany led to the Soviets imposing the Berlin Blockade, cutting off road and train access to West Berlin on June 24, 1948. The Allies responded with the Berlin Airlift, bringing in 13,000 tons of food per day with over 200,000 flights lasting nearly a year until May 12, 1949.
On October 7, 1949 the Soviet controlled part of Germany became a separate country, the German Democratic Republic, or "East Germany", which was heavily influenced and controlled by Soviet authorities. Meanwhile, West Germany operated as a capitalist country with a democratic government and saw it's economy and standard of living growing and improving over time, which attracted many East Germans, who wished to relocate to the more prosperous and free West Germany, away from Soviet control.
The period from 1950-1952 saw 544,000 East Germans move to West Germany and in 1953 another 331,000 migrated to West Germany, fearing an even greater increase in Soviet control. Up until 1952, passing from West Berlin into East Berlin was relatively easy until a system of passes were introduced to restrict movement. At the same time, a declaration was made that the border between the countries of East and West Germany should be considered a dangerous border and a barbed-wire fence was erected between the two countries.
Meanwhile, the border between West and East Berlin still remained open, leaving West Berlin, deep in the heart of East Germany, attracting thousands of East Germans to West Berlin as a gateway to West Germany. By 1956, the East German authorities restricted virtually all travel to West Germany.
The next step in isolating East Germany was a new passport law that reduced the number of people leaving East Germany through the West German border, which increased the percentage of people leaving through West Berlin to over 90% by 1959 since there was no physical barrier in Berlin, such as the barbed wire fence that separated the two countries along their border 100 miles to the west. There was even subway service between East and West Berlin at the time.
This left West Berlin as a tiny island of freedom and a gateway to the West located right in the center of East Germany.
By 1961, approximately 20% of the entire East German population, 3.5 million people, had left East Germany. With the majority of the people leaving being young and well educated, the population of working age people decreased from over 70% to 61% and represented a loss of manpower estimated to be worth from $7 to $9 billion. Finally on August 12, 1961 orders were given to close the border between East Berlin and West Berlin and erect a barrier to prevent any further movement of East German citizens into West Berlin and out of East Germany.
Roads were torn up and barbed wire and fences were erected around the perimeter of West Berlin, stretching for 87 miles. In 1962 a second fence was erected approximately 100 yards further into East Germany, creating what was effectively a moat that offered no protection from armed East German guards, called The Death Strip.
In 1965 the wire fencing was replaced by a concrete wall which eventually grew to be 12 feet tall and nearly 4 feet thick.
During the wall's existence, there were around 5,000 successful escape attempts to West Berlin and the number of people killed trying has been placed between 136 to above 200. Various methods of escape were used, including tunnels, hot air balloons, sliding along overhead wires and ultralight aircraft as well as escaping through the sewer system. On occasion, wounded escapees were left to die in the Death Strip, as any potential rescuers feared being shot at by the East German border guards.
On June 12, 1987, Ronald Regan challenged Mikhail Gorbachev of the Soviet Union to "Tear down this wall" as a sign of increasing freedoms in the Communist Eastern Europe.
On August 23, 1989, Hungary removed it's border defenses with Austria, allowing more than 13,000 East Germans in Hungary to escape into Austria. The remaining East Germans prevented from leaving flooded the West German embassy in Budapest and refused to return to East Germany. This set up a similar event in Czechoslovakia and mass demonstrations within East Germany. In October, longtime East German leader Erich Honecker resigned and on November 4 a million people gathered in the Alexanderplatz public square.
With Honecker's replacement Egon Krenz's new government tolerating the wave of East Germans leaving through Czechoslovakia, a plan was put into place on November 9, 1989 to allow people to simply leave directly through the checkpoints between East Germany and West Germany, including West Berlin.
Spokesperson Gunter Schabowski was given the assignment of announcing the new policy, however he had not been present at the meeting or fully updated on the details. Shortly before a press conference, he was handed a note that said East Berliners would only be allowed to cross the border with proper permission, but no further information on how to present the news. The new rules were to take effect the next day in order to be able to inform the border guards on the new policy, but no one had told Schabowski, who when asked on live TV when the new rules would take effect, assumed from the wording of the note that it would be the same day, replied "As far as I know effective immediately, without delay." After further questions, he confirmed that this included the border crossings into West Berlin.
Soon afterwards West German television announced that starting immediately, East German borders were open to everyone. Since East Germans had been waiting to hear this news for 28 years, thousands of East Germans went to the border crossings, demanding that the guards open the gates. Unaware of the new rules, the outnumbered and overwhelmed guards tried to call their superiors, but none of them dare give any orders to use lethal force and, without the authority to fire, the guards had no way to hold back the growing crowds and opened the gates. The wall had, in theory, come down.
Initially, the wall stayed intact, but new border crossings were added as previously severed roads were rejoined and various rules remained in effect, which included the need for visa applications in advance for West Berliners to visit the East. The guarding of the wall became more and more relaxed and more and more damage to the wall was tolerated.
Many celebrations were held in the days following, including David Hasslehoff rocking the wall on New Year's Eve 1989.
Roger Waters performed the Pink Floyd album "The Wall" on July 21, 1990 near the Brandenberg Gate.
Finally in June of 1990, the dismantling of the wall officially began and Germany was officially reunified as one country on October 3, 1990.
As for how the separation of Germany after World War II into East Germany and West Germany affected their national hockey team, the East German National Team first competed in 1951 and participated in the World Championships from 1956 on to 1990. They had some success, reaching the highest level, the "A" Pool on a number of occasions, but often being relegated back to the "B" Pool within a year or two. Their highest finish at the World Championships was 5th place, which they managed in 1957, 1965, 1966 and 1970. They were the winners of the "B" Pool on six occasions, each time earning promotion back to the "A" Pool.
The East Germans also competed in the Olympics, first as The Unified Team of Germany, comprising athletes from both East and West Germany as a single team, in 1956, 1960 and 1964, finishing last in 1956 and 1960 and next to last in 1964. They competed as separate teams in 1968, with the East Germans finishing 8th out of 8 with a 0-7-0 record. From 1972 onward they did not compete in the Olympic hockey tournament.
The West Germans won a silver medal in 1953 in their first appearance at the World Championships but generally hovered between 5th and 7th place for the majority of it's existence with the occasional relegation to the "B" pool for a couple of years.
The Olympics were very much the same story, finishing at or near the bottom in 1952, as the Unified Team of Germany in 1956, 1960 and 1964, and as West Germany in 1968, 1972 and 1980. Some improvement was shown in the 1980's, with mid-pack finishes in 1984 and 1988, but 1976 was the highlight of the separate West German program, with a surprising 3rd place finish which earned them the bronze medal behind the dominant Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia.
West Germany began by defeating Switzerland 5-1 in a qualification match to move onto the main group, whose round robin schedule would determine the medal winners.
They opened Group play by defeating Poland 7-4. Losses to Finland (5-3), the Soviet Union (7-3) and Czechoslovakia (7-4) hurt their chances, but a 4-1 win over the United States left West Germany, Finland and the USA all tied with 4 points from two wins in the standings with West Germany winning the tie-breaker and being classified third to take home the bronze.
With the reunification of Germany in 1990, the German National Team once more represented the country as a whole. Their record in the World Championship generally sees them finishing between 7th and 11th, with the occasional relegation to the second level, followed by a quick return to the top division.
Their Olympic record is very much the same, with finishes of each step from 6th to 10th on their record over the last five Olympics.
Today's featured jersey is a 1989 West German National Team Udo Keissling jersey from the World Championships held in Stockholm, Sweden. West Germany would finish the Round Robin portion with a 0-5-2 record, but avoid relegation by finishing with a 1-2-0 record and save themselves from the drop with a 2-0 defeat of Poland.
One of the best players in German hockey history, Udo Kiessling set a new record in 1992 with his 5th consecutive Olympic tournament appearance. Kiessling's record shows he played a single game in the NHL, in 1982 on a tryout after his German club team was an early exit from the playoffs, but returned home to play in the World Championships, never to return to the NHL again. But just because a player is not in the NHL, doesn't mean he doesn't exist, as Kiessling would go onto have a 24 year career, ending in 1996 at the age of 40.
He made his first appearance in the Olympics at Innsbruck in 1976, winning a Bronze Medal. In addition to his five Olympics, Kiessling also participated in 15 World Championships and the 1984 Canada Cup, as well as winning six national titles in Germany, where he was named the top player three times.
This beautiful jersey features the vibrant colors of the dye-sublimation process and the arresting graphics of the era with the colors of the tri-color German flag streaking across the chest, as well as the distinctive Tackla diamond logos on the shoulders and drop shadow block font for the numbers. Easily one of our favorite jerseys.
Today's video selections have some footage of the West German National Team competing in the 1980 Olympics against Sweden and then the United States team, which would go on to pull off the Miracle on Ice against the Soviet Union.