Virtually History: The Berlin Wall

(cheering) (narrator): 30 years ago
the Berlin Wall fell. It ripped through the city, tearing
families apart, and turning lives upside down. Now, a group of people
are stepping back in time. Are you ready to go?
– Yes. – To experience the Wall again. (Hannah): What on earth? – Three YouTube Creators… – Oh, my God. Wow. That is… frightening. – …will discover
its true horror. – This is really a place
where people died. – And three relatives will get
closer to their own family stories. – This man in this picture
is my grandfather. – In a way
they could never imagine. – Wow… (rat squeaking) It’s incredible. (intense music,
heart beating) (reporter): 20 million
Germans are in flight, as the smoke of defeat
clouds all Germany. (narrator): Out of the ashes
of World War II, Germany, and its capital
Berlin, are divided into sectors. The Communists control the East,
the Allied powers the West. As the years pass,
millions of East Germans leave in search of a better life
in the West. East German authorities
believe their entire economy will collapse if they can’t stop the exodus. In the early hours
of August 13th, 1961 a brutal secret plan begins. Lines of barbed wire
are laid out through the city, caging in all those living
in East Berlin. – Whoa.
– It’s just… unbelievable. – This is madness.
– God… – Look at this barbed wire. – It’s kind of wild how normal
it looks, and then, there’s just this. – Yeah.
– Yeah. – Just completely tore through.
Where do you even begin to draw that line? – It’s such a scar on the city.
– Yeah. – This is just a normal
neighborhood. Everyone’s gone to sleep,
and then they wake up one morning, and they’ll peek out
of their windows, and then see this. – It’s all a product
of greed. That one side wanting
to hold onto every person, all of the manpower,
all of the brainpower, to keep the economic stability
there, when the process of doing that
is destroying generations of families. – And now you only know
about wire like this from a prison. – But you’re caging in people
that have done nothing wrong. – The people were pawns to be
used for this greater political gain. They have no say in it. (narrator): In these moments, one family living close
to the border in East Berlin is faced with
a life-changing decision: Whether or not to flee. – This picture has been shown
to me maybe at the age of six. I can see my grandma in here,
like, a long time ago. She was trying to escape
before the wall was built. It’s just a picture,
but I think there’s so much more I would love to know
about the picture. – Are you ready to travel
back to 1961? – I am. Let’s go.
– Okay, let’s go. (intense music) – It’s just stunning. Just give me a moment
to capture all these things. – So now here we are
face-to-face with your grandmother. – Wow. It’s really incredible. I’ve never seen her
as a young woman. If I would extend out my arm, I
could almost touch her, and give her a hug. – So this is 1961. It’s the 17th of August,
and we’re at Bernauerstrasse, in West Berlin. – It’s crazy.
I know that street so well. But it feels different
right now. I just want to know more;
what’s going on, what’s happening. – I can’t over-emphasise
what a critical moment this is. So this row of houses was where
your grandmother was living at the time, but what’s so remarkable, so important
about this street, and about this address, is that while the houses are in East
Berlin, we’re standing in West Berlin. And even while we stand on
the footpath outside the houses, that’s still West Berlin.
– Yeah. – But the houses themselves
are East. – That’s crazy. I remember
my grandma telling me that, and I didn’t really get that
when I was younger. – Now these border houses
represent a security risk, because you can use them
to cross from East to West. Your grandmother and family
have just heard that the secret police,
known as the Stasi, are on their way to occupy the
houses and stop anyone from leaving. So in this moment, your grandmother
and her family decide to go for it, and to flee to the West. – I think she must have felt
so much fear and confusion. What to grab, what to take,
and where they’re going. – And underneath the window,
those two gentlemen that we see are just two passers-by
who saw what was happening, and just threw down their
belongings and got stuck in, and helped the family. If you look up there, you can
actually see your grandmother’s father, and he’s hastily passing down
what few possessions he can that they’ll be able
to take with them. – Right, he’s so close,
you can really see his face, like what he’s thinking. I can see all
these worries, and fear and confusion. – So here we are in your
grandmother’s 1961 apartment, the room that they
had just left. All these photographs,
do you recognise any of them? – Yeah. I’ve seen them
many times. There’s a lot of the photo albums my
granddaddy and my grandma used to have. It’s very emotional seeing that because
it’s part of my family, this is my blood. – Being in this room, we can
really start to understand the sense of urgency that’s in the photograph.
– Mm-hmm. – If you look there, the chair
has just been knocked over. According to your grandmother’s account
of the day, they’re in the middle of lunch, your grandmother’s parents
announced: “Right, that’s it, we’re leaving.” They had an hour to pack
and get out of there. – Yeah. I can see my grandma’s
daddy at the window as well. I didn’t know that he was
the last one in the room. – Absolutely. Him still being
in this room is incredibly risky. – He’s trying to take care
of his family, but he doesn’t know what’s
going to happen to them. – He knows the police
are coming. They’ve actually entered the building at this stage.
– Wow. – He has barricaded himself
into that room that we’ve just left, by shoving a chair up against
the door. He knows that everything hangs
in the balance, in this moment, he really just has to take
that leap of faith. So he jumps from that
window, down onto the street, and ultimately into freedom. Just days later, your
grandmother remembers walking back to look at the street
from the safety of the West, and seeing that the windows
of her apartment building and all those along the street had been bricked up.
– Wow. Any later, and they could’ve
ended up trapped in East Berlin. There’s so many outcomes
that could’ve happened, and that could’ve had a huge
impact on the future fate of your family. – It’s an incredible feeling
how my life would’ve been different. I feel a lot more connected now
to my grandma. I’m very proud of her. (reporter): The Communists
built this barrier to keep their people
from escaping to the free world, and it does just that. (narrator): In a matter
of days, the lines of barbed wire are
upgraded to a vast concrete barrier, closing off communist East
Berlin from the Western world. Families are torn apart, friends will never see
each other again. The Berlin Wall is born. (Hannah): Whoa…
(Riyadh): That is big… (Rezo): That is huge. – It’s just so menacing. – Oh, my God.
– Madness. (Hannah): I had no idea
it was like this. – This is oppression,
danger, segregation. – You’d not miss this. – Does this have any resemblance
to modern Germany or Berlin? – This? No, no. Now, the city is such
a diverse place, and of course, you have the
freedom to walk wherever you like. – The idea of families being
ripped apart as they were here, it reminds me of what
happened with my dad. He was born into an Iraq
that was ruled by Sadam Hussein. All of his friends were being
sent into the army to basically die
for this awful man. You know, my dad had to make
the decision, “Do I stay with my family,
what I know, everything that I grew up with,
or do I flee?” And he decided to go. He’s one of the lucky ones.
– Yeah. – And this story is retold
time and time again, not just in Iraq, but in Berlin,
and everywhere. (Hannah): My great-grandmother
was from East Germany, and she was Jewish, and
came to the UK in the early 1930s, went back one time to visit
her mother in 1936, and then after the war,
still couldn’t go home because of the divide
in Germany, and then didn’t go back
to visit her hometown until the Berlin wall came down. – Wow. – A lot of people would’ve experienced that here. Not seeing their family
or friends for years, even though they lived
like a street apart. – It’s crazy isn’t it?
– Yeah. – We’re lucky to live in
countries where we don’t have this fear. So to know that this was only 30 years
ago shows that it could happen any time, so we have to be careful
how things develop in our country. – We’ve got to keep a close eye
on people who are in power. What kind of language
they’re using, what they’re saying. – If they want to build walls.
– Yeah. (crowd shouting) (narrator): In the three years
since it was built, 42 people have died
trying to cross the Berlin wall. With border guards ordered
to shoot on sight, getting over the wall is now a
risk few people are willing to take. But a group of students
in West Berlin… …are hatching
an ingenious plan… – This man in this picture
is Klaus Von Kessler. He’s my grandfather, and in this
picture, you see him building a tunnel under the Berlin wall. It’s a pretty unique story.
And… There’s so much more I don’t know
about the story that I’d love to find out. – So Anton, are you ready
to go back to 1964? – Alright, let’s do it.
– Let’s go. That’s him! We are
face-to-face with Klaus, your grandfather. – He looks so certain
about what he’s doing. I can see in his eyes
that he has a plan. He’s just like he is now,
but younger. It’s weird, it’s pretty much
travelling in time. – So at the time, he was
a law student in West Berlin. He was 22 when the wall
went up. He was separated from
all the people that he knew. And so he
and a few other students embarked on the huge task
of digging this tunnel, under the wall, in order to help
his friends escape to the West. – It’s incredible – That’s a winch
that he’s operating by hand, and it’s full of soil
from the tunnel, because they have dug
all of this by hand. What we’re looking down now
is 12 metres. – 12 metres, wow.
– That’s a 12-metre drop. What’s it like? – It looks so narrow,
it’s so small, actually. – Yeah it’s only one by one metre.
– Crazy. How long is that tunnel?
– 145 meters. – Wow… – If you look down at your feet, there
should be an envelope. Can you pick that up? – Yeah, I see it. – Open it up, and tell me
what you see. – Paper with notes
written on it. “Nicht ein schlafen
sofort ziehen,” which means,
“Don’t fall asleep.” – So you actually have
in your hands, and you’re reading from…
– Yeah? – …the actual notes that your grandfather
used in the digging of this tunnel. – Right, that’s crazy. – This is how they would’ve
communicated with each other. They would’ve transported the
notes via this pulley, via the winch. – Ah, that’s so interesting. – Because of the distance
and the noise, they had to do this as quietly as possible,
because there was always the risk of being caught. – That’s incredible,
it’s incredible. – I wonder if he ever
could’ve imagined his grandson would be holding
them so many years later. – I don’t think he actually thought
about that when he was digging the tunnel. It’s crazy to actually build
that because, it’s just like… You go down there with a shovel
12 metres, and you work in here
every day probably for six months, and I would always be concerned
like, just it falling apart on top of me. Okay, I gotta get out of here,
I want to go to the other side. It’s super uncomfortable
in here. – Beyond the door is something
very special. This is the other end.
– This is the entry point of the tunnel. – Exactly. So this is where the
refugees are going to enter in from, and then make their escape
under the city. – Wow it’s so close
to the border, though. – It’s so close the border. We’re right under the noses
of the guards. Between the 3rd and 4th
of October, your grandfather
was successful in organizing the smuggling of 57 people through
this tunnel, and into escape and freedom. – Was it only in one night?
– Over two nights, the course of two nights. Then the Stasi turned up, and
they had been alerted by a tip off, so that was the end
of the tunnel. It still managed to free
57 people. And because of that number,
this tunnel became known as tunnel 57. – That’s pretty mind-blowing. – Your grandfather seems like
a remarkable character. – There are not that many
people that would do something like that, that’s pretty unique. And… I think there’s a lot of people who
could learn from that, including myself, and that makes myself
really proud about him. Even though the whole situation
is far away from me right now, it’s still something
that’s not as a far as it seems. People are getting imprisoned for helping
other people escaping from their homeland because they can’t live there
anymore. – Yeah, those parallels
can be quite strong. – To have the courage to help
other people is something that you should
really take from that story, I think. – As daring escape attempts
continue… …East German authorities
double down on security. (reporter): No, you don’t
forget this wall. It stretches across Berlin like
an open and festering wound. (narrator):
As 20 years go by… It develops into a vast
militarized border with 302 sniper towers, and a force of 14,000 crack shot guards. Running 27 miles through
the middle of Berlin is an infamous central kill-zone
known as the Death Strip. (Hannah): What on earth? (Riyadh): Oh, my God. – Oh, my God. Wow. – Yeah.
– That is… frightening. – It’s like this is a war zone. I feel like we’re in the
North-South Korea border, not in Germany. (Rezo): And it’s only
30 years ago. – The measures that they’ve gone to…
– It’s insane. – The effort… – Isn’t it mad that this expanse began
with one single trail of pathetic barbed wire? – Yeah, on the ground.
– And now it’s a fortress. (Rezo): There are landmines,
there are hounds, the guards in the towers
who will shoot you instantly. – The trench over there.
– …blockers. More barbed wire.
– Even with a tank you can’t push through. No chance. (Hannah): I just, I cannot
wrap my head around how big this is, and how this is
in the middle of Berlin. That’s what I’m trying
to wrap my head around. – This scale, insane.
– I didn’t think it was this aggressive. It’s outwardly, obviously
unapologetically aggressive and angry, and you know, they weren’t beating
around the bush with what they meant here. They wanted it to look this way.
It looks like that. – The people in East Berlin
were prisoners. – This is really a place
where people died. Not just one or two, dozens of people
died here trying to get to the other side. This is insane. – And what a way to die as well,
to be running to your family member, to freedom, and then to be shot. But not just that,
then to be left… Just left. As an example,
probably, to others. – No one’s gonna come and get your body.
– Insane. (war sirens) (reporter): The communists call
the wall a “modern border”. This is to ease the idea of a
whole city living the life of a prisoner. (narrator): By the late 1980s,
public pressure is mounting against the wall. People’s lives in the East
have become a grim reality of hardship, brutality,
and complete State control. But, with the cold war thawing, the international community
urges Mikhail Gorbachev’s Soviet regime to rid Berlin of its so-called
“wall of shame”. – Mr. Gorbachev,
tear down this wall! (crowd cheering) (official): Today we have
decided to introduce measures permitting every citizen
to leave by any crossing points. (narrator): On November 9th
1989, thousands of Germans come together to witness the border being
opened for the first time in 28 years. Finally the East Germans
are free. – I’ve got a picture
of my uncle, Wolfgang, and he was there at the fall
of the Berlin Wall. It’s definitely an amazing
photo, especially for my own family. It was a very important moment in history,
but I don’t really know anything about it. – Let’s go.
(intense music) This is your uncle.
– Amazing! That’s insane. It’s overwhelming. – We’ve arrived at a really
important date, this is the 10th November 1989. We’re in West Berlin just yards
from the Brandenburg Gate, and it’s the morning after the announcement that
the border between East and West Germany is going to open up
for the first time in 28 years. – Wow.
– What we see is your uncle with the German flag in this incredible moment
of celebration. – I think he’s very determined, and he’s totally
happy and sure about what he’s doing. – There’s an amazing story
about how your uncle came to be here. According to firsthand accounts, it happened right
where we’re standing, just the day before. This is the day that they made
the announcement that the border’s going to open
between East and West. There’s a huge, kind of,
carnivalesque atmosphere. (cheering) Wolfgang jumped up on the wall. Lots
of people jumped up, surged onto the wall, but then the East German
soldiers started pushing everybody down. (cheering) In the meantime, people literally
just started, like, laying into the wall, and just trying to pull it
apart, even though they had no idea whether the East German guards
would shoot or not. – I don’t know actually, if I would
have been brave enough to do that. – A section of the wall
gives way, but because
it’s so heavily reinforced, it gets stuck at an angle. And for a moment
your uncle is trapped beneath. – Wow. – When you can see
it’s coming down, you almost
want to jump out the way. – Yeah you’re right. – This is the beginning
of the end of the Berlin Wall. You can almost feel
all of that emotion. (shouting, cheering) Your uncle celebrates
through the night. And in the morning,
he’s handed a flag. The flag is one that belonged
to the family of one of the friends that he travelled down with. And he just picked up
and held it aloft like that. And this image was captured. – Now I know what he’s been
through, I think I can understand him
ever better than before. (soft music) Young people take it for granted
that we can move freely, think freely. One of the things that
scares me most is it’s not so long ago. Even my parents or my uncle
have experienced this. (chanting in German) – You can feel the comradeship, and imagine
what the energy must have been like. – I think it’s some kind of
electrifying moment, as if there was something
in the air, when you know something
great and important is going to happen. – And apparently,
when the wall came down, and the flag was being held,
there was lots of chanting, and they were… one of the
phrases they were saying was: “We are one.” This is the end of this
brutally divisive wall, and system that has divided the country for 28 years.
– Absolutely. – So it’s a real moment
of unity. (intense music) (Rezo): For young people today,
I think it’s very hard to imagine what it was like to
live in a country which is divided. (cheering) The story of the Berlin wall
is very important. And I think it’s crucial
to tell the story again. (Hannah): I think it’s very
easy to take freedom for granted. We live in a world where borders seem
to be getting more and more important. I think the story
of the Berlin Wall is… Yeah, it feels hugely relevant
today. (cheering) (Riyadh): What we’ve seen
over time is that people-power, gathering as big masses, big
populations together to demand change, actually causes change. (chanting in German) One person climbing
over the wall is going to die. 100 000 or a million people
coming to the wall together will demolish it. (Emma): I hope you enjoyed
Virtually History. You can explore the Berlin Wall, and all
of the stories featured in the show yourself, in full 360 VR by clicking
directly to the right. To see other original shows,
click the button in the bottom right. Subtitling: difuze

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