Thus far we’ve learned a few interesting facts about the Berlin Wall in part 1:
- The Wall fell by mistake
- The Wall wasn’t constructed until 15 years after the Cold War began
- The Wall was actually Walls
Here the list continues with three more surprising facts about the Berlin Wall, courtesy of the History Channel.
4. More than 100 people died trying to cross the Berlin Wall
Although there is no exact figure, the Centre for Research on Contemporary History Potsdam and the Berlin Wall Memorial Site and Documentation Center report that at least 138 people were either shot dead, suffered fatal accidents or committed suicide after a failed escape attempt across the Wall. Though many researchers place this death toll even higher.
The first death was reported just days after the Wall was erected. Ida Siekmann attempted to jump to a West Berlin street below her fourth-floor Berlin apartment window. The last death was in March of 1989, when a young East German tried to fly over the wall with a hot air balloon and crashed into power lines.
5. More than 5,000 people did escape by going under the Wall
The first successful escape – and one that is immortalized forever on film – was former East German border guard 19-year-old Corporal Conrad Schumann. He jumped of a roughly meter high roll of barbed wire just two days after the border was officially sealed.
But as security and the Wall grew, escape plans became more and more complicated. Many hid in secret compartments of cars driven by West Berliners. Others dug tunnels or even crawled through sewers. Perhaps the most famous and impressive escapes were by the Bethke brothers. The first was by eldest brother Ingo, who floated on an inflatable mattress across the Elbe River in 1975. The second was eight years later, when bother Holger flew over the wall on a steel cable he fired with a bow and arrow to a rooftop in West Berlin. The final escape was in 1989, when the two brothers flew an ultra-light place over the Wall to pick up their third brother Egbert.
6. John F. Kennedy was relieved when the Wall was constructed
Soviet Union leader Nikita Khrushchev warned Kennedy in 1961 that he would begin to blockade West Berlin if the Western forces remained. Kennedy knew this act had the potential to lead to war. When he heard that the communists had decided to rather close of East Berlin, he confided to an aide, “It’s not a very nice solution, but a wall is a hell of a lot better than a war. This is the end of the Berlin crisis. The other side panicked—not we. We’re going to do nothing now because there is no alternative except war.”