Last Saturday’s Montreal Gazette carried a news story about the Berlin Wall. In fact, over the past week or so, newspapers from the London Telegraph to the New York Times to der Spiegel have carried stories about the Berlin Wall. The reason is that August the 13th marked the 50th anniversary of the building of the Berlin Wall. It was 50 years ago this summer, on the night of August 12th to 13th 1961, that Berliners heard the sounds of heavy equipment moving in their city. And when they woke in the morning a barbed wire fence had been thrown around West Berlin. The city of Berlin, of course was located completely within communist, East Germany – and so the construction of that barbed wire fence had the effect of completely cutting off surrounding East Germany from West Berlin, that part of the city controlled by the Americans, the British, and the French.
Over the years, that wall first thrown up in 1961 took on a number of forms. It began as that barbed wire fence put up in the middle of the night. A few years later it became a concrete block wall – and still later, in the 1970’s and 80’s the wall was reconstructed out of reinforced concrete.
But why was the wall constructed to begin with? What was it that drove the East German government to cut off West Berlin from surrounding East Germany? The fundamental reason for the construction of the wall was to prevent East Germans from leaving or escaping East Germany. Earlier, in 1952 already, the border dividing East Germany and West Germany had been closed – this prevented East Germans from simply crossing the border into the West – and it meant that in the period between 1952 and 1961, when the Berlin Wall was built, the only way East Germans could escape life under the communist regime was within the city of Berlin – by crossing into West Berlin. Continue reading