The Fall of the Berlin Wall: Twenty Years Later

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Twenty years ago Monday, Germany was divided by Berliner Mauer, the Berlin Wall.  The Wall was the center stage for many of the Cold War’s economic, military, and political tensions between the West and East.  The Wall being torn down essentially marked the end of the Cold War.  Today, twenty year anniversary celebrations will take place across the world.  Of course, the largest and sure to be the most grand will take place in the very location where the Wall once stood.  I was in elementary school when the Wall fell.  Though I didn’t really fully understand the significance behind the historical moment, I will never forget hearing about it while I sat in Mr. Parkhurst’s 5th Grade classroom.

In honor of today’s anniversary, WORDS OF WITte features a little collection of photos from my recent visit in April, 2009 to Berlin (read my A Berlin Reflection; a large PDF, be patient with download).  As well, listed below the photos are some interesting tidbits of information on the Wall, suggestions on two great films related to life in Berlin during the Wall’s existence, and a few links where you can go to for additional reading.

Have you gone to Berlin?  Was it before or after the Wall?  What were your impressions?  Leave any thoughts on Berlin or your memories from the Fall of the Wall in the comments.

East Side Gallery

The East Side Gallery.

Berlin Wall Brandenburger

East Side Gallery artistic depiction of the Brandenburg Gate with the Wall. Following the opening of all border checkpoints on the night of November 9th, 1989, this location became a popular destination for the spontaneous celebrations.

Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev and East German leader Erich Honecker

The kiss between Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev and East German leader Erich Honecker depicted on the East Side Gallery.

Bernauer Strasse

This is Bernauer Strasse Wall Museum, the only memorial of the Wall that provides a perspective of both the hinterland and border walls.

Invalidenfriedhof

The Wall was constructed along boundaries based on political control and that meant that some areas of Berlin, like Invalidenfriedhof, a cemetery pictured here, were effectively severed in half.

Top Films

Though there are countless films on the Wall, or that depict lives effected by it’s existence, two films that I highly recommended are Das Leben Der Anderen (The Lives of Others) and Der Tunnel (The Tunnel)The Lives of Others, set in East Berlin during the early 1980’s, is about a survelliance officer of the Stasi Police who monitors the lives of members of the East Berlin culture scene when he becomes increasingly interested in, and ultimately moved by, the lives of two lovers.  It is among the best films I have seen.  The Tunnel is also set in East Berlin, but in the year 1961.  The film is based on the real-life story of a group of East Berliners that fled to the West and then developed and carried out an idea to create and dig a tunnel to bring over their loved one’s that remained behind.  Each film provides great insight into the effect the Wall had on people’s lives.  They are also each incredibly absorbing and wonderfully entertaining.

Interesting facts and information about the Berlin Wall:

(1) As a point of reference for the Wall, people in the West  had the 4-meter high, curved top, so-called “border wall” (often seen colorfully covered in graffiti).  People in the East had a much different perspective.  Generally, the Eastern portion of “the Wall” was more consistent with a complex system of barriers to keep people from crossing the border.  First, there were warning signs that announced the barred areas, then the cement “hinterland wall”, and then the death strip, which had traps, alarms, and armed guards stationed in watcht0wers. (For a nice sketch that depicts the complicated system, click here or here.)

(2) A prominent East Berlin psychiatrist, Dr. Dietfried Müller-Hegemann, wrote a book that provided case studies of depression and other psychological illnesses that often produced physical ailments in patients due to the Berlin Wall’s presence.  The associated illnesses’ namesake was the same as the book which introduced it, Die Berliner Mauerkrankheit, or “The Berlin Wall Disease.”  (See Brian Ladd, The Ghosts of Berlin, page 26.)

(3) The Newseum in Washington, D.C. boasts of having one of the largest public displays of Berlin Wall sections outside of Germany.

(4) Though there are numerous famous paintings and written words on the border wall, a particular beautiful line written on a portion of the wall reads, “When flowers bloom on concrete, life has triumphed.”  (See Ladd, page 6.)

(5) The Stasi top secret paper files take up over 100 kilometers (or over 60 miles) of shelf space and that doesn’t include thousands of sacks of shredded documents.  The Birther Authority is in charge of the declassified files, which are now available to the public to view their own case file if a file on them does, in fact, exist.

Further Reading:

For news, go to Spiegel Online International Newspaper coverage, the New York Times coverage, or the Telegraph article, “Why the Berlin Wall came tumbling down.  For a one-stop reading shop on the Wall, check out the Berlin Senate Department for Urban Development website.

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One response to “The Fall of the Berlin Wall: Twenty Years Later

  1. I visited Berlin in 1996. Even then, only 7 years after the fall of the wall, Germans were understandably racing to remove this painful scar on their city’s history, and it was hard to find any places where the wall was still intact. At that time, the strongest sign of the divide was the sharp distinction in wealth once one crossed over into the east. I imagine that has blurred somewhat over time, too.

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