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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  • Comment number 58.

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

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    Comment number 57.

    It was primarily the influence of M.Thatcher on Gorbachov,rather than Reagan bringing about soviet policy change. As for the wall,-its downfall was solely the efforts and voices of the poeple, initiated by the Polish"Solidarity" union movement at Gdansk shipyards. Reagan lent his Hollywood "character voice" to help the unfolding events, noting the profitable US capitalist opportunities opening.

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    Comment number 56.

    I was one of the NATO soldiers who had the opportunity of visiting East Berlin when the wall was up and the city was divided. The difference between the two parts of the city was stark. I felt very sorry for the East Germans they had very little but were very dignified. Whatever the reason for the fall of the Soviet Pack I was very happy when it happened. We were very close to war many times.

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    Comment number 55.

    I think the West Germans would have remained better of had the wall remained up and the country kept divided. They had progressed remarkably since the end of the war, those in East Germany not only had a failed economy they were substantially the same socially as they were in 1945. They'd made little progress. It has cost the West Germans a lot to reintegrate them and the job is far from complete

  • rate this
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    Comment number 54.

    "It is our common responsibility to keep alive the memories ... and to do everything so that such injustices may never happen again"

    In fact The Wall in Europe is still strong and standing - rebuilt by the other side, moved slightly to the East. Now that people aren't shot when they travel but are merely harassed into visas and dehumanizing checks - we can say great progress has been made...

  • rate this
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    Comment number 53.

    46 " And in 1989 the peaceful, dignified protests of Polish, E.German, Hungarian, and Czech citizens were crucial to their countries' liberation from Soviet power."

    No it didn't. Had it not been for Reagan or someone like him the USSR would still exist and still rule over its evil empire. It wasn't protests, the pope, the lineup of the stars, it was trillions of dollars spent on US arms.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 52.

    Any wall that divides peoples and families, no matter where it is in the world and no matter what the reasons has no place in a civilised world. You can only protect your liberties in this world by protecting the other man's freedom.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 51.

    At the end of the day.....Capitalism still doesn't work, and American presidents are still egotistical idiots.........dangerous psychopaths really

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    Comment number 50.

    part 3: Willly Brandt, the mayor of Berlin at the time, protested the sending of my dad to a meaningless post in the Zone but to no avail. No German outside of those Berliners who knew my father's sacrifice, has ever commented on the role of the one American who tried to defend the free Berliners from the communists. The unwritten profile in courage.

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    Comment number 49.

    part 2: Unfortunately, the general and Ambassador came back to Berlin and countermanded the order - big mistake. Did, in fact, show the communists our lack of will. If you notice, the Russians did not participate. They sat back and watched their German minions do their dirty work. As a result of certain comments my father made about the general's and ambassador's character, his career ended.

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    Comment number 48.

    to skipdallas, I was in Berlin when the wall was started. My father was the ranking US officer (the General and Ambassador were in the Zone on a trip) when his red (alert) phone started ringing. His response was to have the armor company to attach their bulldozer blades and prepare to scrape the wall down when it reached a meter high. He called it an East German work program.

  • Comment number 47.

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

  • rate this
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    Comment number 46.

    Marcus Aurelius: what I meant is that many ordinary people in East-Central Europe did much to bring the wall down, by their protests, from Solidarity in Poland onwards - beginning before Reagan had confronted the USSR. And in 1989 the peaceful, dignified protests of Polish, E.German, Hungarian, and Czech citizens were crucial to their countries' liberation from Soviet power.

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    Comment number 45.

    32 No but possibly we had relations who died as a result of the Nazi regime & notice more the lack of much apparent remembering of this terrible part of history, from Germany.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 44.

    @43. MarcusAureliusII
    I was actually talking about WWI and WWII.
    But thank you for the insight into your countries national politics nevertheless.

  • Comment number 43.

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

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    Comment number 42.

    @MarcusAureliusII
    Wow and i thought God was a mysterious being and not the USA ...

    I mean, nothing against patriotism, but wasnt it too much national pride and self-gloryfying that led to this disaster?

  • Comment number 41.

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  • rate this
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    Comment number 40.

    22 "'President Raegan brought the wall down'!"

    I heard him say it with my own ears "Mister Gorbachev tear down this wall." And he did. In President Reagan the evil empire faced an implacable foe who was entirely principled it could not intimidate. It was a new experience for them.

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    Comment number 39.

    25 "... learn the differences between duty as an ally and "poking your nose in for profit."

    There was no profit for the US in fighting a cold war to prevent the USSR from engulfing Europe the way the Nazis did.It cost the US trillions.Personally I don't think it was worth it, I think the US should have existed Europe after WWII and left it to sort out its own problems even as slaves of the USSR

 

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