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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Documentary: Berlin Wall: The Night the Iron Curtain Closed (2014)


This documentary was shown on Sunday night for the first time on SBS One TV to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The doco's main focus is to document the detailed scheming by the East German government (GDR) to construct a make-shift wall between East & West Berlin between midnight and the dawn of 13 August 1961. Under the directive of SED General Secretary Walter Ulbricht and the Soviet Premier Krushchev, about 40,000 workers under the protection of 10,000 policemen, unrolled over 300 tons of strategically placed barbed-wire to curtain off East Berlin. About 96 miles of wire were unravelled in six hours. In the weeks & months that followed, the Wall was fortified by hundreds of tons of bricks and steel. In the East, the Wall is referred to as 'The anti-fascist protection barrier.'

The film provides a brief overview of the historical and political context to help the viewer better understand why the Berlin Wall was built in the first place. There is flashback footage of the Berlin Blockage and the plight of economic refugees escaping communism through a simple Berlin subway journey. Although it was considered illegal to cross from East to West after the partitioning of Berlin and Germany after World War 2, three and a half million refugees had fled communist East Germany by 1961- about 20% of its population, including the cream of its crop- teachers and doctors. At the time, the East was considered drab & inefficient in delivering services, while the West economically dynamic and full of promise.

West German leader Willy Brandt was furious at the construction of the Wall and there were some minor demonstrations in East Germany. In the end, President Kennedy decided not to react. He thought it was more prudent to accept the idea of the Wall rather than to contemplate the possibility of drastically escalating tensions between America & the USSR.

As the Wall sinks in as a reality to people living in East Berlin, there is a sense of utter despair. Many felt betrayed that, "the world has given up" on them. Thousands of lives are torn apart. Many had previously crossed the border freely every day and had worked or had friends or family in other parts of Berlin. Eventually, East German border guards are ordered to fire on people trying to cross the Wall. Over 150 are reported to have been shot and killed over the decades.

The Wall lasted for 28 years until its fall in 1989. It remains the starkest symbol of the ideological divide between communism and capitalism gone wrong. Only about 3 minutes in the film are devoted to the jubilation which followed the smashing down of the Wall. Without Gorbachev's nod to the Germans, it is only conjecture as to how long the Wall would have survived.

Find the documentary Berlin Wall: The Night the Iron Curtain Closed here on SBS until 9 December 2014:
http://www.sbs.com.au/ondemand/video/348095555808/berlin-wall-closing-the-iron-curtain

Update 6 March 2015

Find the documentary on youtube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1_Pctjn_4mI