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Found: A Forgotten Stretch of the Berlin Wall

It formed an outer defensive barrier that stopped East Germans from getting close to the main wall

(Günter Schlusche/(c) Stiftung Berliner Mauer)
smithsonian.com

August 13 marked 57 years since the Berlin Wall was hastily constructed overnight, dividing the Allied-held Western part of the city from the Communist East. Germany commemorated the occasion by laying wreaths and flowers at the Berlin Wall Memorial, which includes an often-visited piece of the notorious structure. Just after the anniversary, German officials confirmed that another, long-forgotten section of the Berlin Wall had been found beneath an untamed cluster of bushes and trees, as Erik Kirschbaum reports for the Los Angeles Times.

A tour group made the discovery back in June as they wandered through Berlin’s Mitte neighborhood. Ephraim Gothe, the city counselor for urban development who was leading the tour, tells Josie Le Blond of the Guardian, that he was trying to show the group the site of a planned walkway and cycling path when they stumbled upon a 65-foot stretch of wall near the new headquarters of Germany’s federal intelligence agency.

“We bashed our way through the thicket and found ourselves standing in front of this bit of wall,” he says. “We all asked ourselves what it could be.”

The panel was thinner than other, better-known sections of the Berlin Wall, which are also crowned with a circular pipe that the newly discovered section lacked. Experts later confirmed that the tour group had found an outer defensive barrier that stopped East Germans from getting close to the main wall.

“Our experts were able to confirm its authenticity based on the materials used to build it and its measurements,” Gesine Beutin, a spokesperson for the Berlin Wall Foundation, tells Melissa Eddy of the New York Times. “In addition, there were metal poles protruding from it that were used as lampposts and stones that looked like those from the path that ran through the death strip.”

The “death strip” was a wide stretch of sand that lined the Berlin Wall, so that footprints of fleeing East Germans would be easily visible to soldiers that guarded the area. When communist officials built the wall in 1961, they said the structure was intended to prevent “fascists” from entering East Germany. In reality, it stopped streams of refugees from getting out.

After the wall came down on November 9, 1989, some pieces were preserved as memorials to the trying years of the Cold War, but most were destroyed. The process of tearing down the barrier that had cleaved Berlin for nearly three decades was somewhat haphazard, however, and a few pieces of the wall were missed.

“There was such a rush to tear down the Berlin Wall as quickly as possible after it opened nearly 30 years ago that it was all a bit chaotic at the time,” Jochen Staadt, a researcher at Berlin’s Free University, tells Kirschbaum of the L.A. Times. “Everyone thought it was so important to tear the whole thing down fast so pieces like this were evidently overlooked.”

In January of this year, another unknown stretch of the wall was found in an isolated suburban area. Günter Schlusche of the Berlin Wall Memorial tells the Guardian’s Le Blond that there are likely more long-lost sections to discover.

About Brigit Katz

Brigit Katz is a freelance writer based in Toronto. Her work has appeared in a number of publications, including NYmag.com, Flavorwire and Tina Brown Media's Women in the World.

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