It tore families and friends apart, divided Berlin and the country for almost 30 years and was seen as a symbol of the Iron Curtain: when the Berlin Wall was built on August 13, 1961, it signalled the beginning of the violent division of Germany. Over the coming days and months, events will be commemorating this incisive moment in modern German history and marking the 50th anniversary of the building of the Berlin Wall. The official memorial ceremony took place in the city on August 13 at the Berlin Wall Memorial. The central memorial in the heart of the German capital lies along the former border strip on Bernauer Strasse. It documents the history of the building of the Wall and provides information about the effects of German division.
During the memorial ceremony, a one-minute silence was held for the victims of the Wall and the division of Germany. Visitors along the “Berlin Wall History Mile” were able to discover more about the work of victims’ associations, borderland museums, memorials and commemorative sites as well as numerous other initiatives and institutions. In his speech, Federal President Christian Wulff reminded listeners of a “fateful day in German history” and said that the building of the Wall through the centre of Berlin was a “drastic symbol of communist tyranny and at the same time a symbol of its failure”. The German head of state said it was plain to see that the Wall was directed against its own people, and he warned that those who struggled for freedom, democracy and civil rights should not be abandoned today. The Wall “bids us to ensure that history does not repeat itself.”
The GDR leadership ordered the building of the 43-kilometre long Wall through Berlin and the fortification of the inner-German border between West and East Germany extending more than 1,300 kilometres, in order to put a halt to the mass exodus to the West. Since 1949, tens of thousands of Germans had left the GDR, because they no longer saw any future for themselves there. But once the Wall and its heavily guarded border strip had been installed, their freedom to move was blocked. Anyone who still dared to try and escape risked their life in the attempt: up until the peaceful revolution which led to the fall of the Wall in November 1989, 71,000 people in the GDR received prison sentences for attempting to escape. More than 1,000 people died whilst attempting to escape either by crossing the Wall or the inner-German border installations.
Today, in Berlin alone, there are several memorials and museums dedicated to the Berlin Wall and its history. In addition to the Berlin Wall Memorial, the most well-known include the Wall Museum at the former border crossing-point Checkpoint Charlie, the East Side Gallery – a 1.3-kilometre long stretch of Wall decorated by more than 100 artists, the Berlin-Hohenschönhausen Memorial which recalls the prison conditions in the GDR, and the Berlin Wall Trail, a path for cyclists and walkers that traces the route of the former border installations surrounding West Berlin. In 2011 the website www.50jahremauerbau.de provides information about the many events on the topic.