Berlin Wall Google Doodle
On November 20th 2009 the Google homepage was taken over by a Berlin Wall Google Doodle celebrating the twentieth anniversary, of perhaps the single most important event in European politics in the last thirty years. Due to the importance of the event it is surprising that the Berlin Wall Google Doodle only appeared on the search engine’s homepage in Germany.
In the Berlin Wall Google Doodle, the wall was depicted in its now iconic concrete slabs with rounded tops, a slab of which had been knocked down, revealing a shadowy crowd of people waving the German flag. In the Berlin Wall Google Doodle the Google logo was depicted in its iconic font and green, blue, yellow and red colour scheme, in a dis-coloured graffiti style. The second “G” in the logo, which was depicted in the form of a shadow could be seen on the fallen wall panel in the Berlin Wall Google Doodle.
The construction of the Berlin Wall began on August 13th 1961, it was a barrier which was constructed by the Soviet controlled German Democratic Republic (GDR, or East Germany). When completed the wall separated West Berlin, which was a free entity not under Soviet control, from the surrounding East Germany and East Berlin. The wall featured a number of guard towers along its perimeter, which circumscribed a large area, later known as the “death strip” that contained a range of defences including anti-vehicle traps known as “fakir beds”.
The Soviet controlled section of Europe, known as the Eastern Bloc, said that the wall had been erected in order to prevent fascist elements from entering and obscuring the “will of the people” to create East Germany as a socialist state. The reality was quite the opposite. The wall actually prevented the colossal defection and emigration from East Germany and East Berlin into West Germany following the end of the Second World War.
Within the GDR the wall was officially named the “Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart”, which implied that West Germany had not been fully de-Nazified following the end of the war. On the other side of the wall in West Germany, the wall was referred to as the “Wall of Shame”. The Berlin Wall came to become the physical embodiment of the “Iron Curtain”, initially an ideological barrier between democratic Western Europe and Soviet controlled communist Eastern Europe.
Prior to the wall being built, a phenomenon of mass emigration was occurring from East Germany into West Germany, involving over 3.5 million people. Many of those emigrating were going from East Berlin to West Berlin, once in West Berlin the emigrants were able to travel throughout Western Europe. Once the wall had been erected much of this emigration ended, however over 5000 East Germans still successfully emigrated.
A number of people were killed as they tried to emigrate across the wall, the number of which has been widely disputed. The Director of the Checkpoint Charlie Museum, Alexandra Hildebrandt estimated the number to be in excess of 200. Research compiled by a historic research group for the Center for Contemporary Historical Research (ZZF), in Potsdam, confirmed a total of 136 deaths.
The GDR issued guards on their side of the wall with orders to shoot defectors as they were criminals, the GDR government denied issuing orders to shoot to kill. The order to shoot defectors was given in October 1973, the order stated “do not hesitate to use your firearm, not even when the wall is breached in the company of women and children, which is a tactic that traitors have often used.”
In the early days of the wall escape was far easier, this was because emigrants were able to jump over the initial barbed wire fence, or could jump over the wall from the windows of nearby buildings. However attempts of this type ended when the wall was fortified into its iconic concrete edifice. It was not just citizens who emigrated to West Berlin, a number of East German guards also did. The first known East German guard to emigrate was Conrad Schumann who did so on August 15th 1961. On the 22nd of the same month the first person died trying to cross the wall. Ida Siekmann died jumping from the third floor window of her apartment.
Just two days later, on the 24th of August, the first person was shot trying to cross the wall. Günter Litfin was shot as he tried to swim across the Spree Canal, this occurred on the same day that the GDR guards were given their orders to shoot those trying to cross the wall.
A number of intricate methods were implemented in order to successfully traverse the wall. These involved digging tunnels under the wall, flying hot air balloons over the wall and even sliding across the wall using aerial wires. Perhaps one of the most dramatic escapes was achieved by Wolfgang Engels in April 1963. Engels commandeered an armoured personnel carrier and drove it straight into the wall. During the process guards fired on him and he was seriously wounded. However a West Berlin police officer came to his aid, shooting back at the border guards and removing Engels from the vehicle.
The example of the West Berlin police man in Engels’ escape was an exception to the rule. Ordinarily West Berliners did not help rescue wounded emigrants no matter how close they were to West Berlin. This was due to the fear of provoking the East German border guards. Often the East Berlin guards would leave wounded emigrants to bleed to death after being shot.The last emigrant to be shot was Chris Gueffroy who was killed on February 6th 1989.
The wall fell due to a series of political events which occurred during 1989 within the Eastern Bloc. The events involved the loosening of a number of the Eastern Bloc’s states authoritarian power and the weakening of power of the Pro-Soviet governments in Poland and Hungary. After weeks of growing unrest the GDR government announced that East German citizens were free to visit West Germany and West Berlin. Following the announcement an atmosphere of euphoric celebration prevailed where crowds on both sides of the wall began crossing the wall and climbing over it.
Much of the wall was destroyed in 1990, although some remains to this day and it is one of Berlin’s most popular tourist attractions. The fall of the Berlin Wall was the start of German reunification which was formally announced on October 3rd 1990.
It was not only Google who celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the with a Berlin Wall Google Doodle. Berlin celebrated the event by hosting a “Festival of Freedom” and invited leading dignitaries from around the globe. The crescendo of the event was when over one thousand coloured, foam domino tiles were erected along the walls former route and then toppled in a number of stages, ending at the foot of the Brandenburg Gate.