Thursday, August 13, 2009

The First Bricks in the Wall

The Wall divided families. In this Aug. 26, 1961 photo, two women in West Berlin wave to family over the Wall.
This week the German capital remembered a very different summer morning in 1961. On August 13 that year, the first barricades between the eastern and western halves of the city went up. Those barricades would eventually come to be known as the Berlin Wall.
I guess I hadn't quite realized the Berlin Wall got started so late. If I had been asked when it was first created, I would have guessed early to mid 50's. But I wasn't even two yet, and wasn't following the news very carefully. Der Spiegel has an article on the creation of the foremost symbol of the cold war, as well as a photo gallery
On August 12, the East German leadership had had enough. At 4 p.m., German Democratic Republic leader Walter Ulbricht signed the order to close the border. Within hours, the city was laced with barbed wire and crudely built brick walls, a 27-mile barrier snaking through the city. It was a reverse blockade: Instead of sealing West Berlin in, the GDR was keeping its own people in. Officially, the wall was there to protect east Germans from the evils of capitalism, to prevent "criminals and warmongers" from victimizing the fledgling nation. Unofficially, it was a last-ditch attempt to save the East German state from collapse by emigration.
An extraordinarily important event- the article describes is as "one of the most momentous events of the 20th century-" I'm glad to have learned more about it.

Followup: The NYT has posted it's 1961 headline story for the anniversary.

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