The Berlin Wall was torn down 30 years ago. The seismic event sent shock waves across Europe and sparked hopes for millions of East Germans.
The Berlin Wall was erected on 13 August 1961. Made of barbed wire and concrete, the wall divided East and West Berlin for 28 years. The fall of the wall also triggered a series of events that led to the reunion of the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic.
The Berlin Wall was actually two walls, surrounding West Berlin and separated by a “death strip.” As its name implies, East Germans who tried to escape would be summarily shot by GDR border guards. Estimates vary, but well over 300 people are believed to have been killed trying to escape East Germany.
About 200 events have been held over the last week in Berlin alone.
Under the slogan “7 Days – 7 Locations,” lectures, art installations, talks from witnesses, films and exhibitions have been held at the original Berlin locations of the revolution.
Berlin’s historic Brandenburg Gate has been the setting for an art installation featuring around 30,000 ribbons with people’s wishes, hopes, and memories, combined into a 150-meter long “freedom cloud.”
To mark the actual day when the wall fell, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Chancellor Angela Merkel are expected to attend a commemoration at the Berlin Wall Memorial on Saturday.
Under its musical director Daniel Barenboim, the Staatskapelle Orchestra is to perform Beethoven’s fifth symphony – also known as the Schicksals-Sinfonie or destiny symphony – at the Brandenburg Gate.
A divided Germany
After World War II, Germany was divided between East and West. The West, with the help of the US and Britain, flourished and modernized. The East, under the influence of the Soviet Union, struggled. About 3.6 million East Germans, 20% of the population, fled between 1945 and 1961.
East Germany, known as the German Democratic Republic (GDR) or Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR), didn’t want the rest of its citizens to leave for the richer West, so in August 1961 it built barriers to keep its people in. The official GDR line: It wanted to keep “decadent, immoral westerners out.”
Trying to climb over the barriers would set off machine guns, mines, and other horrors. Soldiers patrolled a no-man’s land along the border.
About 150,000 people attempted to escape during the 28 years that the East German barrier existed. An estimated 40,000 succeeded.