A Detail of the Berlin Wall

Once, when watching a documentary on the history of the Berlin Wall, I learned something I’ve never been able to forget:

That rounded piece on top of the wall was obviously put there to make it harder to climb over. When I visited Berlin in 1995 and saw a preserved section, I assumed it was moulded as part of the wall itself. But according to this documentary, it was just a bog-standard piece of concrete pipe with a longitudinal section cut out and plonked over the top. I always thought this level of crudity was apt for what the wall was, and what it represented.

I also read last week that the Berlin Wall has now been down longer than it was up. If anyone were to look around now, they’d scarcely believe the thing ever existed or the Communists lost the Cold War and the right side won.

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27 thoughts on “A Detail of the Berlin Wall

  1. The wall always was an apt metaphor for communism: crude, made from concrete and ineffective in the longer term.

  2. “If anyone were to look around now, they’d scarcely believe the thing ever existed or the Communists lost the Cold War and the right side won.”

    When we went there was still a fine monument at Checkpoint Charlie, a forest of crosses, each to commemorate a person killed for trying to escape. (Quite a few were for people who had successfully escaped but who were later murdered by communist agents in West Germany.)

    I gather it was all swept away: there must still have been plenty of former communist agents around in politics, I suppose.

  3. If you’d been alive at the time, you would not have believed then that only a few years later, various useful idiots in the UK would once again be relaxed about the appointment of a socialist/communist government. You would not have believed people could be so stupid, so soon. You would have found it incredible that every generation has to learn these lessons over again for itself.

    And you would have been wrong on all counts.

  4. That’s a good picture. I have only the vaguest memories of this happening on TV when I was 9 years old. I wonder if the bloke on top of the wall making the V signs still remembers this moment (assuming he’s still among the living).

  5. I visited Berlin in the 90s. The place had become a total building site by then. Wandering round I came across the section of wall along what used to be Prinz-Albrecht-Straße. What was more chilling was a piece of dug-up ground near there in which it was possible to see what looked like the remains of cells – small white tiled rooms. I think this must have been where the Topography of Terror museum is now.

  6. ” it was just a bog-standard piece of concrete pipe with a longitudinal section cut out and plonked over the top.”

    “Base” and “Superstructure”, Marx would have called it.

  7. For about a year I lived within a few hundred metres of the former internal border. This was shortly after the reunification.
    I could write the world’s longest blog post on how the border’s presence, and demise, impacted on the local folk in a way totally unrelated to the usual West German, or East German, experience.

    The infrastructure of it was quite something, and could be the subject of a rather lengthy engineering blog post.

    The wall, which I saw in Berlin, was quite a chilling structure to see for real, notable for the total lack of graffiti on one side, which was cause for quite some pause for silent reflection.

    Had the experience of staring down a Soviet officer in East Berlin (I must have been insane, fools rush in where angels fear to tread, & all that).

    The bullshit had started already. There was a museum or something at Checkpoint Charlie, where there was a mosaic likening those who protested the wall, and especially those who helped others escape, were likened to (would you believe) anti-Vietnam war protestors!
    (Yes, shitheads who violently opposed a fight against communism in Asia, attempted to bask in the glory of, and liken themselves to, people who risked their lives to undermine communism in Germany)

    Notably, ALL those who put their neck on the line when the wall, when it was in situ, (who tried to tunnel under, worked on schemes to smuggle people out, often a quite some risk to themselves) were “hands-on” type people.
    They were motor mechanics, carpenters, medical & dental students (a hands on practical discipline) engineers, labourers, etc.

    After the East German regime collapsed, out of nowhere came arts students, white collar workers, lawyers, etc, with hammers & started chipping at the wall & posing for photographs.

    There was NO SIGN WHATSOEVER of those softcock bastards until it was perfectly safe to lurk near the wall.

    Important to remember that little nugget.

  8. Spent a delightful day in East Berlin back in Feb ’81 when I was backpacking around Western Europe. Quite the experience. One of the fellows with me (three of us from the hostel decided to go for the day) had his Time magazine confiscated while going through Checkpoint Charlie. We had to convert 25 US into East German money and were not allowed to convert it back upon leaving; which meant we had to spend it and pretty much the only place to do that was in restaurants, so of course to the locals we looked like capitalist pigs scarfing down all that food. 🙂

    There was no advertising since everything was manufactured by the state. We were never left alone in the museums as we went from room to room. I was too nervous to even think of having something to drink in case I did something foolish.

    This was the only place in all of Europe where I made sure to wear my jacket with the big Canadian flag on the back.

    Oh, and even when back in West Berlin taking the subway was an experience as well, since parts of it had to go through closed stations in East Berlin; and every closed station had armed Russian guards standing watch underground (in case someone tried to jump on I guess).

    Yup, was quite the experience but glad I only did it the one time.

    Cheers

  9. the Communists lost the Cold War and the right side won.

    Except they didn’t lose. Communism and socialism absolutely won the Cold War. Just look around. The USSR lost, but that’s just the parasite abandoning a dying host.

  10. “There was NO SIGN WHATSOEVER of those softcock bastards until it was perfectly safe to lurk near the wall.”

    And let us not forget the 200,000 screaming German imbeciles gushing over the script reading con man Candidate Obama spewing his globalist tripe to those once proud and now broken Germans.

    “Tonight, I speak before you not as a candidate for President, but as a citizen — a proud citizen of the United States, and a fellow citizen of the world. This is the moment when we must come together to save this planet. Let us resolve that we will not leave our children a world where the oceans rise and famine spreads and terrible storms devastate our lands. Let us resolve that all nations – including my own – will act with the same
    seriousness of purpose as has your nation, and reduce the carbon we send into our atmosphere. This is the moment to give our children back their future. This is the moment to stand as one.”

    Contrast that with JFK’s Berlin speech and also how he masterfully and definitely avoided war during the Berlin tank stand off, that is what you call bravery.

  11. Daniel Ream
    “The USSR lost, but that’s just the parasite abandoning a dying host.”

    Yeap, it;s found some very fertile grounds in the west.

  12. “The wall always was an apt metaphor for communism: crude, made from concrete and ineffective in the longer term.”

    Not a patch on the UK’s Peace Walls.

  13. I gather it was all swept away: there must still have been plenty of former communist agents around in politics, I suppose.

    I’m sure German politics and state authorities are stuffed full of former Stasi employees. I’ve never seen a proper analysis of Angela Merkel’s background in East Germany either; she seemed to do quite well, which suggests she was viewed rather positively by the political authorities. But then, we never got to read Obama’s thesis either.

  14. There was a museum or something at Checkpoint Charlie, where there was a mosaic likening those who protested the wall, and especially those who helped others escape, were likened to (would you believe) anti-Vietnam war protestors!

    Doesn’t surprise me at all.

    After the East German regime collapsed, out of nowhere came arts students, white collar workers, lawyers, etc, with hammers & started chipping at the wall & posing for photographs.

    There was NO SIGN WHATSOEVER of those softcock bastards until it was perfectly safe to lurk near the wall.

    This is a fascinating observation, and one I have no trouble at all believing.

  15. Oh, and even when back in West Berlin taking the subway was an experience as well, since parts of it had to go through closed stations in East Berlin; and every closed station had armed Russian guards standing watch underground (in case someone tried to jump on I guess).

    That must have been rather eerie.

  16. Incidentally, Deutschland 83 is worth watching, s spy thriller series set around the tensions between East and West Germany in the run-up to Able Archer. It’s good because it doesn’t put some ahistorical lefty spin on things, it actually paints the West as the good guys. One detail I liked was that the peace campaigner working in a West German university was actually a Communist agent, as many of them were.

  17. I enjoyed Deutschland 83 too. The main minus was having to suspend disbelief that a junior Grepo officer could successfully masquerade as a Bundeswehr lieutenant without months of training. I liked the East German office decor – very brown and 60s!

  18. The main minus was having to suspend disbelief that a junior Grepo officer could successfully masquerade as a Bundeswehr lieutenant without months of training.

    Ah, I overlooked that. In some armies it wouldn’t be too difficult!

  19. After the East German regime collapsed, out of nowhere came arts students, white collar workers, lawyers, etc, with hammers & started chipping at the wall & posing for photographs.
    There was NO SIGN WHATSOEVER of those softcock bastards until it was perfectly safe to lurk near the wall.

    This is a fascinating observation, and one I have no trouble at all believing.

    It was detailed in another part of the Checkpoint Charlie Museum. They were quite strong on recognising those who put in, & giving backhanded reminders about those who hadn’t.

    Almost certainly this recognition will have changed after a year or two.
    Those who helped dig under the wall (so to speak) are the types who’d have had real jobs to get on with.

    …. thus leaving the running of the museum, and printing of the “truth about what happened”, to those who have nothing better to do than lounge around Checkpoint Charlie telling lurid yarns to impressionable American uni chicks who were semestering in Europe.

  20. …. thus leaving the running of the museum, and printing of the “truth about what happened”, to those who have nothing better to do than lounge around Checkpoint Charlie telling lurid yarns to impressionable American uni chicks who were semestering in Europe.

    Of course. And over time, muddying the waters as to who were the good and bad guys as much as they can get away with. Give it another generation and the Wall will have been built to keep warmongering capitalists out of the peaceful commie paradise.

  21. I would guess the round top would serve 2 functions : an obstacle to have to get around at the top and to make it more difficult to get a grappling hook in place.

    I’m not an engineer but what are the benefits of casting a slab with a round top? Sections of different heights would need a separate custom molds. How much extra cost in building the molds? I imagine that the round bit would have a higher risk of air bubbles. Crude? I’d suggest it is faster and easier to build, cheaper, better (weed out casting defects at the pipe factory), and most people would just assume it is a solid wall until it gets torn down.

    (I recall a Socialist explaining that the graffiti on one side of the wall showed how the GDR was a better place. It would have been more convincing if the East weren’t shooting people who got close to the wall.)

  22. I’m not an engineer but what are the benefits of casting a slab with a round top? Sections of different heights would need a separate custom molds.

    What you’d do is pre-cast the bottom bit leaving rebar sticking up, and you’d either pour wet concrete into a rounded mould on top or you’d pre-cast the rounded bit and stick it on top. Anyway, the curved bit served its purpose: I don’t think the actual wall proved too difficult to get over in itself, it was getting to the base of it and then over the top without getting shot or treading on a mine that was difficult.

    I’d suggest it is faster and easier to build, cheaper,

    Of course, everything in communist countries is. Was it better? Given the wall’s purpose it did its job, but I’ve never seen that design anywhere else.

  23. Crude doesn’t necessarily mean bad in engineering terms, especially if there is no client requirement for an architecturally pleasing finish, or an unsightly ungrouted joint seam between the slot and the wall which would only be visible from directly underneath. Not that anyone in that vicinity would be complaining about aesthetic finish.

    I am sure the wall jumpers knew exactly what they were made of. Assuming that its standard culvert at 2.5m lengths they would be approximately 0.5T dead weight and if a spigot and socket join then they would be fixed to each other making them heavier. So either way probably impossible to man handle from underneath, so you would need a mechanical hoist to lift them and then hitching points on the pipe to hook on your lifting slings would have to be drilled in or similar so very unlikely to be doing that anywhere near quick enough not to be busted.

    Functionally I cant see anything wrong with it.

    It would be worthwhile exercise to compare it to the UK Peace Wall on a functional, architectural finish and budget basis.

  24. Functionally I cant see anything wrong with it.

    Nor me, but if anyone had a few minutes and some tools they might be able to smash it: it wasn’t reinforced and probably under strain in places. But nobody would have had more than half a minute, if that, before they got shot.

  25. “A concrete sewage pipe was placed on top of the Wall. This was to make it impossible to get a grip on the top of the Wall.”

    I think it might actually be storm water pipe, not sewerage pipe, either way it would have had a reinforcing mesh cast in.

    These guys shown below are doing a good job manhandling from above with a crow barred leverage point. There is enough info there to revise my estimate to a shorter length and say about 0.4T dead weight, that is 80 Stone or three Robbie Coltrane’s for the poms. The best way to remove them when in service would be to tie them onto ninety nine luftballons!

    http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2014/11/05/1415178411884_wps_44_BERLIN_GERMANY_NOVEMBER_1.jpg

  26. The best way to remove them when in service would be to tie them onto ninety nine luftballons!

    Heh!

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