Fall of the Berlin Wall: How much do you know about this turbulent time in history?


By: John Miller

6 Min Quiz

Image: Neptuul via WikiCommons

About This Quiz

These days, the Berlin Wall seems like a weird fantasy concocted by political revisionists. A wall dividing a city filled with millions of people? Topped with armed guards ordered to kill people on sight? How bizarre -- and how terrifying. How much do you know about this very real (and horrifying) part of Cold War history?

The Berlin Wall was a barrier located in which country?

The Berlin Wall was a wall that was built during a turbulent era in Germany. The wall became a political symbol that divided both people and ideologies.


Which entity built the Berlin Wall?

East Germany (or the German Democratic Republic) was a socialist state that arose from the ashes of World War II. It built the Berlin Wall to as a response to the incredible political turbulence of the Cold War era.


Which U.S. president famously said to the leader of the U.S.S.R.: "Tear down this wall!"

In 1987, Ronald Reagan gave a widely-publicized speech in which he said, "Tear down this wall!" Just a couple of years later, that's exactly what happened.


Which country effectively controlled East Germany?

After WWII, the Soviets controlled East Germany and East Berlin. The Western Allies, who teamed up with the Soviets to defeat the Nazis during the war, controlled West Berlin. With their common enemy (the Nazis) defeated, the ideological differences between the West and the U.S.S.R. came to a head in Berlin.


What official reason did East Germany provide for building a wall that divided the city of Berlin?

East Germany -- a land of socialism -- was supposedly worried about the corrupting influence of Western "fascism," so up went the wall. But a more likely reason is that Soviet and East German officials wanted to halt the mass exodus of people who realized socialism was going to be a terrifying ordeal.


True or false, were East and West Berlin exactly alike ... but simply separated by a wall?

Life was very, very different depending on which side of the wall you lived. The East was a Soviet-dominated (read: pretty scary) life of government control. West Berlin was a thriving capitalistic society with amazing art and freedom of expression. Care to take a wild guess as to which side was more appealing to most citizens of Berlin?


Before the wall was built, the Soviets tried to run the Western Allies out of the city using which means?

In 1948, the Soviets surrounded West Berlin and blockaded the area, hoping to starve out the Allies, who responded by airlifting supplies to the locals. The Soviets slapped their collective foreheads and slowly realized they'd have to try something else to oust Western influences. It took them more than a decade to come up with the idea for a wall.


What series of events finally prompted East Germany to build the wall?

The people of East Berlin weren't stupid -- they saw Soviet oppression intensifying, and they wanted no part of it. In just a few months of 1961, tens of thousands of locals packed bags and escaped across the border to West Berlin, just before East Germany closed the border and built a wall.


True or false: Before the wall's construction, could East and West Berliners go back and forth freely in the city?

It's true, Berliners lived in a strange alternate reality in which one part of the city was socialist and the other side was capitalist -- they moved back and forth freely when they wanted to. But the wall put a stop to all of that.


The Berlin Wall went up in 1961. When did the wall fall?

The Wall was erected in 1961, beginning a terrifying era in Berlin. It didn't crumble until a series of amazing events in 1989.


Once the wall was built, how did Berliners move from East to West Berlin?

After the wall was completed, there was only one way to move between the two Berlins -- through one of several checkpoints manned by heavily armed guards. Only officials on authorized business could come and go, and normal citizens were mostly prohibited from making the crossing.


True or false: Did the wall stop the exodus of people who were fleeing East Germany?

Is your oppressive socialist agenda scaring off your citizens by the millions? Do you want those terrified folks to remain part of your regime? Do we have a great idea for you! Build a wall, give some soldiers a few machine guns, and your problems are solved! Yes, the wall (and ominous threatening guards) definitely slowed the mass exodus to a trickle.


The first wall was made of what?

When East Germany announced the closing of the border, it quickly threw up a temporary wall made of barbed wire. As the months and years dragged on, it built up a concrete wall that was more effective -- and more terrifying.


Who was Conrad Schumann?

Conrad Schumann was a 19-year-old East German soldier who jumped the barbed wire fence to freedom just days after the wall was constructed. He became an international celebrity, but sadly, he felt disconnected from the people he left behind and said he never really felt free until the wall fell in 1989. A few years later, he committed suicide.


How did the wall's construction immediately affect relations between the East and West?

The wall actually simplified diplomacy for a while, causing a reduction in the tensions between the East and West. But it was clearly a temporary solution, not one that would stand the test of time.


How tall was the finished concrete wall?

The finished concrete wall was about 12 feet tall and topped with a large pipe that made it difficult (or impossible) to climb. Germans do engineering right, you know.


What was President John F. Kennedy's response to the wall's construction?

JFK was relieved by the new wall, which was an inelegant but effective solution to a very sticky diplomatic situation. He famously said, "...a wall is a hell of a lot better than a war."


Why were buildings beyond the wall demolished?

East Germany demolished all structures near the wall to remove hiding places for anyone looking to escape … and to make it easier for guards to shoot at potential escapees. This open area was called the "death strip" or "no man's land."


On August 12, 1961, when the wall first appeared, thousands of East German troops gathered in the city center and began doing what?

Under strict orders from the government, the troops began tearing up the city streets to create a makeshift barrier. Meanwhile, other troops kept watch to make sure no East Germans escaped to the West.


"Stalin's lawn" was a feature of wall security. What was this lawn?

The wall had all sorts of crazy security features, such as long beds of nails meant to deter people from escaping on foot. In the West, these nails were sometimes called "Stalin's lawn."


How long was the concrete section of the Berlin Wall?

The concrete section was about 66 miles long. Altogether, the wall was about 100 miles long and extended beyond city limits, where it also prevented people in the countryside from crossing the borders into West Berlin.


True or false: Was the concrete section of the wall actually made up of two walls?

East Germany was determined to halt defectors. In the sections made of concrete, the wall was actually two walls separated by an infamous buffer zone that was more than 100 yards wide. Watchtowers with armed guards filled the buffer zone as a deterrent to anyone trying to cross the wall.


Which rock act was (in hindsight, mistakenly) allowed to play a concert in front of a huge crowd of East Germans in 1984?

In 1984, the East German government relented momentarily to the demands of young people and allowed Bruce Springsteen to play a crazy-huge concert to hundreds of thousands of people desperate for the freedoms of the West. Note to self: If ever I run a dictatorship, ban all American rock stars from showing my young oppressed people what they are missing out on in life ... because doing so will create figurative cracks in the wall, which happened in East Germany after The Boss took the stage.


What was the infamous Splittermine Modell 1970?

The East Germans were determined to stop defectors. They mounted Splittermine Modell 1970 anti-personnel mines near the wall -- these mines were triggered by a tripwire and blasted anyone who dared approach the wall.


About how many people tried to escape by scaling the wall?

Fear has an interesting effect on human beings -- they'll try to scale a scary-looking wall to escape an even scarier Communist regime. About 10,000 people tried to frantically climb the wall … but only about half succeeded.


About how many people were killed trying to get past the wall?

For all of its threats of death via armed guards, the wall ruled mostly through fear. About 200 people died trying to cross, either from guards' bullets or by accidents caused during panicked escape attempts.


The last wall-related fatality occurred in 1989, just months before the wall fell. What happened?

In March 1989, an ambitious East German defector tried to use a hot air balloon to defeat the wall. Instead, the balloon collided with power lines ... and, well, you know how this story ends.


The wall fell Nov. 9, 1989. What announcement did the government of East Germany make that night?

On Nov. 9, 1989, a truly incredible moment occurred when East Germany's government publicly allowed people to freely cross the border that had for decades divided Berlin. Many people grabbed tools, headed straight for the wall, and began tearing it to bits.


The wall fell in November 1989. When were East and West Germany officially reunited?

About a year later, in 1990, East and West Germany were reunited under the name Federal Republic of Germany. After nearly three decades of wall-based weirdness, a sense of normalcy returned to the city of Berlin, bringing a sense of ending to the World War that caused the mess to begin with.


Before it fell, the Berlin Wall essentially turned East Berlin into ______.

The Berlin Wall wasn't meant to keep people out -- it was intended to keep people from escaping East Berlin. In a very real and terrifying way, the entire city of East Berlin was made into a prison overnight, held hostage to a Communist empire that would eventually rot from the inside out.


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