History of the Berlin Wall


All stories have a beginning. This one begins August 13, 1961, almost 60 years ago today. I started this essay in real

All stories have a beginning. This one begins August 13, 1961, almost 60 years ago today. I started this essay in real time, December 19, 2020. On August 13th, 1961, World War Two was just 25 years ended, dozens of countries around the world were either newly born or recently ended, President Kennedy was alive and well, championing democracy in the United States as our youngest elected President. The geopolitical world was a mess. There were countries that had every flavor of leadership from capitalism(a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit), socialism ( means of production, distribution, and exchange of goods be owned by the community as a whole, but socialism was stopped by WW2 as practiced in Germany and Outlawed); communism, (society in which all property is publicly owned and each person works and is paid according to their abilities and needs), and then into dictatorships and democracies.

In 1961 there were basically two different competing country governing styles, the east who were communists and the west who were capitalists. The United States of America was the polar capitalistic society, as was the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialistic Republic) was the polar communist. Further, the countries would align themselves with being a western country or an eastern country; for example, the western countries were Great Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, Iceland, Austria, Belgium, Luxemburg.

Through Warsaw Pact, the Eastern Block Countries were under the USSR’s leadership, including Poland, Checkoslavokia, East Germany, Albania, Ukraine, Romania.

Then there were the Third World countries, most neutral, having their own addenda, or choosing sides based on foreign aid gifts they could receive from one side or another such as Switzerland, most African Countries, Egypt, Libya, Sudan, China.

So there it was, after WW2, the world was divided East VS West, and anything that would strengthen the East was opposed by the West and Visa Versa. Anything the East could do, the West had also to do. If the eastern Influence were expanding, the West would stop it, as demonstrated already by the Korean War, to stop the spread of communism on the Eastside. When Castro, a Communist, won the gorilla war and turned Cuba Communist, President Kennedy tried to stop it with his first misguided attempt landing Cuban freedom Fighters, soldiers CIA trained in the Cuban Bay of Pigs to stop Castro in a miserable failure. The USA tested nuclear bombs, then USSR developed and tested nuclear bombs. USSR sent a Sputnik Rocket into space, USA developed a rocket to go to space, USSR sent a Cosmonaut to space, USA sent an astronaut to space, USSR did a spacewalk, the USA did a spacewalk, even a chess game grabbed the worlds attention between an American, Bobby Fischer, and a Russian, Boris Spatsky. That was a digression. I promise a few of those. Now back to the Berlin Wall.

Life in an Eastern bloc country was very difficult for its citizens in 1961. Jobs were few. One had to be a party member for the most part. Food was scarce, supplies were not available, money was in short supply, consumer goods were non-existent, cars were tiny, and there was barely enough space for a driver. Life, in general, was dismal. There was very little education available, and what was there was used to get the best jobs, and more often than not, those educated people left their country because they had more freedoms to travel and never came back. The East was having a massive “Brain Drain” by 1961 because the Western Bloc countries who practiced Capitalism had an abundance of food, medicinals, automobiles, consumer goods, etc., that the Easterners were envious. Over 2 million easterners had fled their countries to the west.

The Eastern Countries’ borders’ were so tightly controlled by the USSR that travel was severely restricted, even a neighboring western country. An Eastern bloc citizen that dared to emigrate to the west later found out that their families were punished, their property seized, and their reputations were slandered. It was worse if they sought political asylum. 

The Reality of life in 1961 was that most easterners leaving to the west were leaving through Berlin City. Even though there were four sectors, travel within the city itself was relatively unimpeded. One could leave the Russian Sector of East Berlin and go to any western sector in West Berlin. This was the leak of the “Brain Drain,” and it was USSR that directed the East German Government to Plug the leak, hence the Berlin Wall’s start, also known in Berlin as the August 13 Wall (1961).

Iron Curtain dividing East and West

There was no warning, not a word. Berlin was a large city. It was divided up after WW2 in 1945 into the four sectors administered by four countries, America, Great Britain, France, and Russia, as there four countries beat Germany in the war and to the victors go the spoils. They vowed never to let Germany start a war machine again by Keeping their sectors indefinitely. The war in Europe turned to a race to get to Berlin, the capital of Germany. The Russians got there first on April 15th,1945, and for a month, they fought the Germans claiming all the massive government buildings and bureaucratic sections they kept as the Russian Sector when the war ended, May 8, 1945. 

The German people have had a difficult time with four countries administering Berlin. In 1947, just 14 years earlier, the Russians refused to let the Americans, British, and French bring supplies into Berlin, which was entirely within Germany’s Russian part. This Berlin blockade began the famous Berlin Air Lift. Hundreds of American, British, and French airplanes were flown by thousands of aviators and ground crews working 24/7 ferrying supplies from western Germany to Western Berlin Templeton Airport. Approximately 2 million people needed food, clothing, coal for furnaces, medicinals, and gasoline. Everything required to live had to be airlifted into Berlin day and night, around the clock, with thousands risking their lives to get the job done. The Candy Bomber was born of this effort, dropping hundreds of candy bars by parachute to the children giving them hope and friendship continuing to this day. After 14 months, the USSR reopened the highway for land supplies after realizing that this effort only brought the Americans, British and French administrators closer together and cooperatively. A failed Russian Experiment. 

Berlin had made it through this nightmare until, without any notice or warning, August 13th, 1961, found East German soldiers lined up shoulder to shoulder in a 17-mile path around East Berlin, totally circling the sector and blocking the people from going out. Families were split up. 

Mothers, children, brothers, sisters, grandparents cousins suddenly found themselves on the other side of an impenetrable machine gun. Workers couldn’t get to work. Shoppers couldn’t go shopping, all without any warning the city was divided. This wall of soldiers stretched 17 miles on day one, August 13th, and the subsequent wall was eventually known as the August 13th Wall.

Within a few days, the East German soldiers began unrolling the razor wire along the line, gradually replacing them but leaving enough to stand guard between stations (photo 8). After weeks of barbed wire, bricks and building blocks finally started to show up. Then a buffer zone roughly 100 yards was created, followed by guard towers within the buffer zone. A cement wall on both sides of the buffer zone was gradually erected. The final shape started evolved with an about 100 yards buffer zone between two separate and distinct walls. Watchtowers were constructed periodically, and steel and wooden barriers were built to deter foot traffic.

Buildings along the border were either closed, torn down, or had windows and doors cemented shut. Tunnels were popular till buildings were spaced more distantly. All in all, there were at least five distinctive wall designs of a western sidewall with access to westerners and an eastern side carefully signed to stay away, lest you be shot and killed, for fear you were going to jump over. The actual construction took many years. Hundreds of “incidents” happened along the 18-mile barrier, documented in dozens of books written about the August 13th Wall. 

On August 22, 1961, the first documented death occurred when East Berlin guards murdered Ida Siekmann as she climbed over the “Wall.” Every year service in the west was held remembering those murdered. (photo 9) Many people escape in all types of disguised vehicles and costumes, fitting in hiding places almost inconceivable. These people were celebrated as newly free with their stories and bravery about the press and museums. In all, 146 people were known to have been murdered just for seeking the freedoms we in the west enjoyed every day, taking for granted. The shoot to kill order given to East German guards was obviously effective with rewards for killing.

Keeping the peace was insanity. There was a gate between each sector and the Russian Sector. Check Point Charlie was the most famous on Freidrickstrasse between the American and Russian sectors (photo 10). Within one block of Checkpoint Charlie was the KGB (USSR secret police) Building, The American CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) or American spies, Stasi building or the East German secret police, and they were watching events at checkpoint Charlie 24/7 and watching each other’s activities of coming and going.

They all knew each was watching and who they each were. The Stasi were the most feared, most brutal, and most intrusive, watching every East German Citizen. They encouraged citizens to tell the activities of other citizens and rat them out. Even a secret Stasi prison was equipped with a guillotine to take care of untold numbers of detainees. Every letter was opened and read. Music tapes sent in my family to the east were confiscated and reused to record phone taps. One cute story tells of an 8y.o boy in east Berlin who wrote his Grandmother in the west saying, “Thank you for sending me the gun. I buried it in the back yard”. The Stasi came the next day, dug up the whole backyard looking for a gun, and left when none was found. The little boy wrote Grandma next, “you can send the bulbs to plant as they tilled the garden soil for spring.” Obedience was kept in the East through Fear, and it mostly worked.

Now back to the wall story. The western wall was distinctive, vertical, 12 feet high, and a round cap on top. The westerners would approach the wall, and it soon became an artist proving ground with all types of messages being painted thereon. Words, phrases, every color, events were all painted on the distinctive western wall. The Eastern border wall was painted white and left untouched, unpainted, without graffiti and commentary. Approaching that eastern wall would allow the legal shoot to kill order.

Regarding the Berlin Wall

It consisted of a system of electrified fences, fortifications extending 28 miles through berlin. And 75 miles around west berlin.

About 5000 East Germans managed to cross to West Berlin

About 5000 East Berliners were captured trying to cross to West Berlin

About 191 died trying to cross, of which 141 were murdered.

The Visitor to the Wall, influencing history.

August 12th, 1961 Walter Ulbricht, East German leader, signed a barricade order at USSR request.

August 13th, 1961, security chief Erich Honecker ordered barricades installed.

August 15th, 1961 Vice President Johnson visited to show support to Berlin citizens.

August 19th, 1961 President Kennedy 5 min speech “Ich Ein a Berliner” insight of the new Wall. (photo 13)  

September 23, 1964, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. preached against walls that “divided humanity,” “Symbolizes the division in mankind” in a visit to the then-three-year-old Berlin Wall.

June 12th, 1987, President Ronald Reagan spoke at Brandenberg Gate, suggesting. 

“Mr. Gorbechev, Tear Down This Wall.” (photo 14)  

April 1989 East German troops ordered not to shoot in” the buffer zone known as “No Man’s Land.”

The Wall Came Tumbling Down

November 9th, 1989 East German Politburo member answered “immediately, without delay” when asked when travel restrictions on East Berliners would be lifted. The correct answer was tomorrow, and East Germans were still required to have visas to visit West Berlin. This mistake and the following mistake brought the wall down!

But, with all the confusion and mixed messages, the East Berliners rallied in mass. At the Bornholmer street entrance, the confused guards opened the gates for East Berliners’ mob to pass to the west. The wall, erected in August 13, 1961, standing for 28+ years to keep a people within was torn down on November 9th and 10th.

I have to take a moment to tell of the American, British, and French soldiers deployed to Germany in their regular army enlistment to serve. I estimate that over 38 years over 5 million servicemen were deployed in Germany to keep the peace. It started with a small deployment of 100 known as the First Berlin Brigade. Soldiers, just doing their duty, sacrificing their freedoms to be the first defense line against the Russians. By maintaining this show of force, the peace was kept by mutual detergence. These soldiers and I consider them heroes and just did their job from every armed services branch. I thank every soldier for putting their lives on the line at ground zero, the Berlin Wall, staring down the Eastern soldiers who were doing their jobs as well. Every day was a powder keg of uncertainty. Every day was a day of tension. Any day could have been the last!

That was a great chapter, as the story continues, but the Lost Berlin Wall Art Collection story hasn’t even begun yet. Now is a good time to introduce Rainer Hildebrandt. Rainer was an anti-communist activist his whole life growing up in Berlin. He was once called “the man the Russians feared the most.” When the August 13th Wall was built, Rainer protested and then went on to help East Berliners who escaped to the west become settled with a home, friends, a job, or whatever they needed for their new life in the West. Many of these escapees came hidden in suitcases across the border and came in secret car compartments, hot air balloons, powered parachutes, or even home-made scuba gear. As Rainer helped them settle in the west, they often returned the kindness by giving Rainer the gear they used to escape in. Rainer had such a collection he founded the internationally known and famous Check Point Charlie Museum on Friedrichstrasse near Checkpoint Charlie. This museum tells the story of post-WW2 Berlin, Germany, The world throughout the Cold War.

It tells of the individual heroism and bravery of people escaping to freedom. As well as life as an East Berlin Citizen. Every world leader, from Roosevelt to Reagan who was touched by WW2, the Cold War, and beyond has a story. Through his museum, Rainer’s gift to the world was to point out the failures of Communism, point out the human drive for individual freedom, and the necessary Bravery required by people to escape their situation, risking all for that individual freedom.

The wall was being torn down, hammered away by Berliners, piece by piece. November 9th was a great day for all Berlin, but now Rainer feared that with the wall being hammered and turned to dust, there would be no witness to the horrors the occurred there. The 146 murders, the 500 other deaths, and the 5,000 captured will have no voice with the wall gone. Now the story gets murky, and I ask anyone with details to contact me and fill me in.

Rainer Hildebrandt arranged with a Cal Worthington from the CIA to purchase .1 mile of East Berlin side of the double wall erected near Checkpoint Charlie and shipped to the United States. Yes, about 500 feet of concrete wall 10 feet tall was purchased and shipped to Bath, Maine, and placed in storage. Some 300 sections of the wall, each weighing ½ ton, or 150 tons of cement wall, were loaded on cargo planes, airlifted, flown to the United States offloaded to trucks for the final unloading Bath, Maine. Why? To preserve it. They shipped the wall for safekeeping from getting hammered into dust in Berlin, and that very wall remains a permanent witness to the atrocities.    

But there’s more… before Rainer and Cal shipped the wall, they hired 3 Russian artists who lived in East Berlin to paint 100 3’x3′ paintings on different pieces of the wall, and then because Rainer is a forward thinker and to allay fears about authenticity Rainer Hildebrandt signed each art piece by hand, along with the artist.

Authentic Berlin Wall signed Hildebrandt

These 100 Berlin Wall Art Paintings and the 300 (40″ x8′ each)or cement slabs representing .1 mile of East Berlin Border wall represent the LOST Wall and Lost Art Collection. 

It was lost in a sense to the world, although a handful of people knew of its existence, and even fewer knew where in storage it was. I understand that the then owner Cal Worthington gifted three sections to Portland, Maine’s city, where it is on display today! Shortly thereafter, he filed Bankruptcy, and the Berlin Wall Collection was bought by its second owner Warren Johnson through bankruptcy court. Warren Johnson had great plans to commercialize and sell the collection, but he became ill and gifted it to his Daughter, Elizabeth Glass, the third owner of the “Lost” Berlin Wall Collection. Elizabeth lived in Tampa Bay, and as the owner of the “Lost Berlin Wall Collection,” she sought out the advice of the Tampa Fine Arts Council, who Referred her to Jason (Jay) Goulde of the Outdoor Arts Foundation, a not for profit foundation committed to teaching through Public art Projects. 

Jay Goulde had a rich history in Tampa. He was the best know for putting together Fiberglass projects, as you see in many cities. He did a Turtle exhibit Benefitting the Clearwater aquarium. He did a Manikin project benefitting an LBQJG fundraiser. He did an Architectural Dog House project Benefitting BlueCross for Dogs in the UK. I lie in Manatee County, Florida, so when I saw two dozen 6 foot long decorated Manatees on display at Tampa Airport, I had to go to the Manatee Auction, and this was when I met Jay, and we quickly became friends. He knew every artist in Tampa and was energized by Art.

Liz Glass, the third owner, and Jay Goulde reached an agreement that Jay would procure Artists from all continents, different styles to paint on the Lost Berlin Wall, their interpretation piece in 2007, then send it around the world on tour to the sponsoring businesses for display then ultimately auction. When Jay’s main sponsor withdrew, Jay came to me as a substitute purchaser, and I agreed, becoming the fourth owner. Elizabeth and I had a good business relationship. When her father, Warren Johnson, demanded that he still owned the wall, Elizabeth sided with me through an eleven-year lawsuit (started 2008) over ownership. Finally, in 2019 the Judge ruled in my favor as the handwriting expert said the gift letter on the scratchpad was a genuine and original signature of Warren Johnson. Unfortunately, during the lawsuit, Jay Goulde died of Lymphoma (2019) one week before the final court date and Judgement. It is still to Jay Goulde that I dedicate this Project of Displaying the Lost Berlin Wall to the world.

In 2008, just before the lawsuit, Jay distributed 20 pieces of the Berlin Wall to be painted by local Tampa Bay Artists. These locally painted works will soon be on display with The Russian works painted in 1990, 31 years ago.

Without me knowing much of the history, Rainer Hildebrandt passed in 2005, with his wife Alexandra Hildebrandt, now the President of the Board of the Check Point Charlie Museum. To memorialize her husband and his accomplishments to the world, Alexandra started a recurring annual award given to a single person doing the most for Freedom in the world; The Rainer Hildebrandt Freedom Medal. To date, there have been 15 recipients of the Human Rights Medal, founded by Alexandra Hildebrant. Rainer Hildebrant’s contributions to the world are still alive today in his Freedom Medal, his many books, his museum, the many people he saved in Berlin. This Lost Berlin Wall and Art Collection were displayed at the Freedom Pavilion at Citrus Park Mall.   

Fast Forward, the year is 2020, and the Lost Berlin Wall Art is being displayed and seen in public for the first time since 1990. This display includes many paintings done in 2008 as well as an unpainted Berlin Wall ready for painting. There are two locations to start the viewing; the Red Door No 5 is a private event center housing several painted Russian pieces and available by private viewing and at Citrus Park Mall in Tampa, hosting Russian Painted pieces, Tampa Painted Pieces, unpainted Pieces, and souvenir gift pieces. See the lost collection for yourself, and at the Mall is a whole exhibit about the Cold War 1945-1993 and beyond. The mall exhibit is known as the Freedom Pavilion and satisfies your craving to see what has been lost for over 30 years.

What is the future look like for the Lost Berlin Wall and Lost Art Collection? Through a generous donation to the Outdoor Arts Foundation, the Citrus Park Mall owners, WestGate Mall INC, allow for the display in Tampa Bay of the Lost Collections. We at the Outdoor Arts Foundation are displaying it with no entrance Fee for your educational experience. Only you, the people of Tampa Bay, will determine if the entire collection will remain in Tampa Bay or Not, depending on your generosity and support. The Outdoor Arts Foundation is a 501c3 corporation, and all gifts are tax-deductible to the extent allowed (ask your accountant for IRS advice.). We encourage your membership and gifts to our building and operating fund to get a permanent home for the collection and keep the entrance fee minimal (or $0.0). Thank you for your support.

I wish to Donate; Please contact the Freedom Pavilion – Jim Thomas at 941-725-2239