Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Berlin Wall 50 Years On: Symbol of Division, and of Hope

This past weekend, German citizens turned out en masse to recognize the 50th anniversary of East German authorities putting up the Berlin Wall. Coming 15 years after Winston Churchill’s Sinews of Peace speech, this barrier was the embodiment of the Iron Curtain that the British Prime Minister (ex-PM at the time) had spoken of in March 1946. The Wall not only carved Berlin in twain, but also the political and philosophical world – with liberal democracies with capitalist economic models on the western side and the totalitarian Communist regimes on the eastern.

Many desperate souls from the east (at least 136 reported, with many other likely not counted) died trying to cross the wall and with each failed attempt, the dreams of families hoping for a different life in the west perished, too. The commemoration in Berlin was no celebration, but rather a somber affair marked by church bells pealing out and flags billowing in the breeze at half-mast on the Reichstag. In the spot where the wall stood is now a chapel, which held a memorial service for those who lost their lives during the Wall’s 28 years.

Before the concrete monstrosity went up, more than 2.5 million Germans had gone to the Allied occupation zones in the west of the city, according to The Daily Telegraph. One of the reasons for constructing the wall was the fear that this flight would leave the eastern part of the city economically destitute. Yet it was also, in many ways, a barrier to keep things out, not least “dangerous” Western ideas about freedom of the ballot box, speech and expression.

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