Berlin Wall’s 46th

Today is the 46th anniversary of the beginning of the Berlin Wall. The post I wrote last year on this topic continues to be popular, day in and day out, but especially when high school curricula get to the Cold War, the Berlin Airlift, the 1960s, and the collapse of the Soviet empire, best exemplified by the destruction of the Berlin Wall itself and the reunification of Germany.

Go read my post of last year, “Berlin Wall’s 45th.”

The photograph I used to illustrate that post has become one of the more popular photos of the Berlin Wall on the internet. It is from a small, too-little used collection posted by Corey Hatch at the University of Utah.

Here is another photo from his collection. It comes without caption; from the barbed wire and the uniform and helmet, I would say This is cropped version of a photo of an East German soldier,  Conrad Schumann , assigned to shoot people trying to breach the wall to escape to West Germany, who instead decided to leap to freedom himself, probably at Checkpoint Charlie, one of three gates between East and West Berlin. I regret I have no further credit information on the photo on August 15, 1961.  The photo is by West German photographer Peter Leibing, then working for Contiepress, in Hamburg.

East German soldier leaping barbed wire of the Berlin Wall, to freedom.

German authorities announced the Wall was open for travel between the two entities of divided Germany on November 9, 1989. Jubilant Germans on both sides of the wall tore down sections, poked holes in the concrete barriers, and generally vandalized the wall over the next few weeks. Negotiations then led the way for the Reunification of Germany on October 3, 1990.

After the rise of Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev, after 1985 the Soviet Union allowed freedom to come to Poland, and to Germany, and to all of Eastern Europe (the nations “behind the Iron Curtain”) by the simple expedient of refusing to intervene with Soviet troops to stop the actions. The opening of the Berlin Wall was almost accidental: East German authorities asked Soviet officials for help in stemming a flow of immigrants from East Germany to West Germany through other nations that were loosening their own totalitarian governments; Gorbachev simply refused. Without any official making the decision to open the wall, at a press conference an East German official said there would be no Soviet help to close commerce and integration; a reporter asked if that meant the Wall was open, and he replied “yes.”

Liberty came at a high personal price to Gorbachev. A coup attempt against him in August 1991 made it clear that his attempts to reform the old communist system to something more like a free market had failed; various republics that had made up the Soviet Union then began to secede. Ukraine voted to secede on December 1, being one of the biggest of the republics, and even Russia seceded from the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) on December 12. By the last ten days of December, agreements paved the way for a peaceful breakup.

The Soviet Union was declared dead at midnight, December 31, 1991. That is usually given as the date of the end of the Cold War.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Emma, in comments, who graciously provided details of the photo of Conrad Schumann leaping the barrier.

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23 Responses to Berlin Wall’s 46th

  1. […] posts on the Berlin Wall here at the bathtub are suddenly popular — usually they get a lot of hits after March when U.S. schools get to the post-World War II […]



    We’ ve been on a very cool program on Saturday. A photographer magazine organized a big festival in a small place next to lake Balaton, called Balatonfüred and invited all major photo companies like Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Sony… etc with lots of cam…


  3. Ed Darrell says:

    Jorge, how about donating it to a local school?

    Historic photos don’t get enough play in classrooms. Your donation would help a lot.


  4. Jorge says:

    I was recently shopping around and found this photo framed in a 20x30in print. any ideas of what I should do with it?

    in Houston, TX


  5. […] Link para a história da foto aqui. […]


  6. kev don says:

    i might think you need a little more information about him. Like why was he sad and he suicide.


  7. kev don says:

    that was a wonderful picture. I wish i took that picture. I like the information they gave me.


  8. Ed Darrell says:

    Thank you, Emma! According to the Wikipedia article, “The photo became a well-known image of the Cold War and won the Overseas Press Club Best Photograph award for 1961.”


  9. emma says:

    The photo did not win the Pulitzer prize, but it was none the less one of the most intense pictures of that period. It was taken by Peter Leibing.

    It shows Conrad Schumann, escaping East Berlin, but NOT at Check Point Charlie.

    Check this for more information:


  10. Ed Darrell says:


    I’ve looked for a citation for that photo at the Pulitzer site, from 1959 to 1991, the year before to three years after the wall. I can’t find it. Can you help me out? Are you sure it won a Pulitzer? Do you know who the photographer was? When?


  11. debi says:

    That photo won a Pulitzer prize for the photographer. The east German soldier took that jump for freedom on the day the wall went up. He went on to live a normal uneventful life in west Germany. Sometimes in life we have one moment to make a momentous decision. I admire people who can take that chance and go for it.


  12. A notable sidelight on the fall of the Wall: it came on the anniversary (51st) of Kristallnacht. Talk about closing out an era.

    Then again, you can take it as the end of longer era. My own reaction when I heard of the fall was, The lights have come on again all over Europe. What was that whole time but 75 years of the World War?


  13. jd2718 says:

    Last date should be 1991. [Fixed now — thanks! E.D.]

    The GDR didn’t have many cards to play after Czechoslovakia began allowing GDR citizens to leave to the west. Events played out quickly that year.

    I was there last month, my second visit and my first since the Wall was destroyed. I found large parts of the center hard to recognize. Under the Linden and Alexanderplatz were easy, but areas immediately adjacent to the Wall were not. Kreuzberg, whose streets to the center were deadended by the construction, was a student and immigrant (mostly Turkish) neighborhood. Now its streets go to the Middle, and it has rapidly gentrified. Potsdamer Platz, a no man’s land, now sports high rise office towers. The Brandenburg Gate now leads from Unter den Linden to Tiergarten.

    The low light was an exhibit in the ruins of the old secret state police headquarters that tried to create a sense of continuity between the Gestapo and the Wall. The open exhibit just south of the old Friedrichstrasse crossing was another example of victor’s history, albeit far less heavy-handed.


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