Germany marks 50 years since Berlin Wall


Klaus-Michael Keussler: "We thought this could not last longer than weeks" - Archive video courtesy British Pathe

Germany is marking 50 years since the building of the Berlin Wall when the communist East closed its border, dividing the city for 28 years.

Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit told a ceremony on Bernauer Street: "The Wall is history but we must not forget it."

President Christian Wulff said Germany had been securely established as a reunified country.

The city observed a minute's silence at noon (10:00 GMT) in memory of those who died trying to escape.

Start Quote

Many still bear the psychological scars”

End Quote Stephen Evans BBC News, Berlin

Soldiers from the East began construction on the morning of 13 August 1961.

  • Initially a barbed wire fence, it became a wall which spread for nearly 160km (100 miles)
  • More than 300 watchtowers were erected to spot escapees
  • Minefields were laid in some sectors

The BBC's Stephen Evans in Berlin says the East German authorities portrayed the Wall as a barrier to keep the fascist West out - what came to be known as the Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart.

But he says the accepted view now is that it was to keep East German potential migrants in.

'Saddest day'
German leaders attend the Berlin Wall commemoration, 13 August Germany's leaders attended the Berlin Wall commemoration

Addressing the ceremony on Bernauer Street, famously divided by the Wall and now site of a memorial, Mayor Wowereit said the capital was remembering the "saddest day in its recent history".

"It is our common responsibility to keep alive the memories and pass them on to the next generation, to maintain freedom and democracy and to do everything so that such injustices may never happen again," he said.

At a ceremony at a former crossing-point, President Wulff said the wall had been "an expression of fear" of those who created it.

"The world situation, of which this wall was a symbol, seemed irreversible to many people," he said.

"But this was not the case. In the end, freedom is unconquerable. No wall can survive the will for freedom in the long term. The violence of just a few has no hold over the drive for freedom of many."

Chancellor Angela Merkel, who also attended the event, was herself raised in the East.

The number of people who died trying to cross the Wall is disputed - at least 136 are known to have been killed but victims' groups say the true number is more than 700.

Find Out More

  • BBC History explains why the Berlin Wall went up, and why it came down - in excerpts from BBC television documentaries

The first victim was thought to be Guenter Litfin on 24 August 1961 and the last Chris Gueffroy on 6 February 1989.

A list of names of the victims was read out overnight.

Although the Wall came down in 1989, it remains for some a symbol of continuing economic division between the richer west and poorer east.

Invisible barrier

Brigitta Heinrich, a schoolteacher by profession, grew up in Klein-Glienicke, which was unusual in that it was an East German enclave on the territory of West Berlin.

Start Quote

I cannot name a single West German with whom I socialise now - really, I can't”

End Quote Brigitta Heinrich Former East German teacher

Speaking to Russian news agency Ria-Novosti, she said one of her own pupils had escaped across the Wall in the early days, using a ladder.

The schoolboy's parents were forced to move out of Klein-Glienicke as a result, and the mother was sacked from her job in a company, she said.

Recalling the hardships and broken illusions of the communist state, Ms Heinrich, who still lives in the East, also talked of the difficulty of readjusting to a unified country.

She said she had made friends with other Europeans such as Italians and Finns since the fall of the Wall but some West Germans, especially in regions further away from Berlin, seemed indifferent to people from the former East, as if an invisible barrier remained.

"I cannot name a single West German with whom I socialise now - really, I can't," she said.

Few parts of the Wall remain, though city authorities have laid down an 8km (five-mile)row of cobblestones to mark its path.

Tourists often struggle to find original sections.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    President Reagan brought the wall down & won the cold war with a committment to build up US military might, with determination, and the cunning to know the USSR would bankrupt itself trying to keep up with America's vast military power.Europeans give credit to everyone else from Pope Paul II, to Gorbachev, to their own actions but none of that mattered. And for it, the Russians respected him

  • Comment number 17.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 16.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Oh Yeah? Who do you think under the age of 65 in the UK gives a damn about your Cold War politics and "historic" moment. We have bigger problems to worry about. It now costs over fifty thousand pounds to get an education for which we will never get a job with anyway in the "free" West and most of us don't have a hope in hell of owning a roof over our heads in your triumphant capitilist democracy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    I can't understand the Germans marking the day the wall was built. I would espect thm to have tremendous celebrations to the anniversary o the day the wall came down. However it is worth noting that they lost the war but won the peace - their economic situation is one of the best in the world.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Now I got a reasonable economy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    9 I lived through the cold war.I remember during the Cuban missile crisis that we didn't know if we'd live to see the end of the day.The USSR was actually very weak although both the US and USSR for differerent reasons didn't what that known.

    The only way to win and keep freedom is to be prepared to fight and die for it.Europeans never learned that lesson but it's how America was born.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Does it matter the wall came down? Yes, now the East can join the West. The article said, there is an indifference towards the East. Mainly because the dialect or language is different. As soon as they speak, they are picked out. West Germany is ticked because it has to support his poor brothers who did not work for the benefits.The wall was meant to break up Germany so it could not fight.

  • Comment number 10.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    I well remember visiting the Wall in 1990, a few months after it was opened. To see children skateboarding in Checkpoint Charlie, where people I knew had been arrested only 4 years earlier, was amazing.
    - Marcus Aurelius II, you evidently don't remember the Cold War and the fear of nuclear war which we lived through. Maybe you don't know that the Soviets had some missiles, tanks, and soldiers ...

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    My family was split by this stupid wall. I have letters from my grandparents who lived in the east, explaining the impossibility of visiting loved ones. SAD. Those commies were a bunch of criminals!
    @Alison12:00 GMT would be 1:00, not 11:00 in Germany which is AHEAD, not behind of GMT.
    Maybe the typo has been corrected in the article since you posted, but I see exactly your 'correction.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    @Alison Kirkland. BST (which the UK is currently in) is GMT +1. Germany is in Summertime as well so they are GMT +2 right now.

  • Comment number 6.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    "It is our common responsibility... to maintain freedom and democracy and to do everything so that such injustices may never happen again"

    Isn't Germany a major supporter of Israel, where the same thing is happening now?

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    MarcusAurelius11, that is a very stupid thing to say! That would have been tantamount to invading East Germany. It would have started WWlll.
    I wonder what the Unified Germany will teach about the post War era in 50 years, and what the books will say about reunification.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Too bad the East German authorities didn't put as much effort into improving the lives of their citizens as they did building a wall to keep them in.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Minor typo. That's Guenter Litfin, not Guenter Liftin. Also, isn't 12.00 GMT equal to 11.00 in Germany, not 10.00? At any rate, Germany is 1 hour ahead of the UK, not 2.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    The US should have blown the entire wall apart with artillery as
    soon as it was completed. That it didn't showed a complete lack of political will.


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