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Duration 11:55

In The Shadow Of The Wall: The Meaning of Berlin Today

The film opens with an image of a refugee dying beside a wall. The place is Berlin in 1962. Various shots of the wall and its defences follow. The film shows people attempting to cross to West Berlin after the wall was built. We are given a history of Germany’s treatment after the war and the differences between life in East and West Berlin.


After the unsuccessful attempt to expel Western powers from Berlin in 1948-49, the sustained presence of the West in the city greatly irritated the Communist system. The existence of Western zones in Berlin, and the free access for Berliners to travel between both capitalist and communist zones, enabled many East Germans to defect. By 1961, around 3 million people had migrated from East to West. This was a major coup for the West as these people were leaving the communist system for a better life in the capitalist West. The number of refugees that had fled to the West by 1961 represented about one-sixth of East Germany’s population. On August 12th 1961, a record 4,000 people made their way to West Berlin to start a new life in the West. This pushed the East German authorities into doing something. On 13 August 1961, barbed wire barricades went up, dividing the city. Claiming that Western powers were using Berlin as a centre for spying, Communist authorities described the barricades as an “anti-fascist protection barrier” that kept spies out. Instantly movement of military and civilian personnel was restricted. As a permanent concrete wall reinforced the barbed wire barricades, there was international outrage. US and Soviet tanks faced each other in Berlin, and for a short while a hot war rather than the accepted Cold War seemed to becoming a reality. In the end, however, all sides accepted the wall. Although President Kennedy was deeply critical of the wall, even he pointed out that `a wall is a lot better than a war’. For many people the Berlin Wall was seen as the iconic symbol of the Cold War. However, in 1989, after years of physical division, Berliners from both East and West dismantled sections of the Wall as restrictions on movement and communist repression were unexpectedly lifted. The fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 was regarded as the beginning of the end of the Cold War, and contributed to the eventual collapse of Soviet Union in 1991; some 30 years after the Wall was first built.

Interesting or important points about the film

This is a propaganda film produced to help Britons understand why the East German Communist authorities constructed the Berlin Wall in 1961.

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