Germany commemorates the 50th anniversary of the building of the Berlin Wall this week. That wall wasn't as lengthy as the Great Wall of China, nor did it have the mythic significance of the wall that Joshua's trumpet brought down at Jericho. But the Berlin Wall marks a significant milestone in the history of the Cold War, when a supposedly civilized nation locked in its people and described it, in the Orwellian rhetoric every government bureaucrat could envy, as an "anti-fascist protection rampart."
West Berlin Mayor Willy Brandt correctly called it the "Wall of Shame."
This was not the beginning, the middle or the end of German history, but it will be remembered for a long time because it affected so many lives, personally, politically, nationally and worldwide. The wall sealed in the East Berliners, but it told the Allies that the Soviet Union was not likely to make a move on the rest of Berlin. The wall became a concrete expression, literally, of the evil inherent in communism.
The wall contributed to the growth of two separate cultures, communist and capitalist, conformist and free, rigid and expansive. Initiative and creativity in art and the spirit were limited in East Germany, stifling the soul and wounding the spirit, but imagination and ambition inspired those eager enough for freedom to try all kinds of adventurous attempts to escape. Some East Berliners dug tunnels; others launched themselves aloft in primitive hot-air balloons. Some even tried sliding across aerial wires that crossed over the wall. A few tried to sneak through "ghost stations" of the subway that no longer resounded to the noise of trains from the West.
Workmen first chipped away at the cobblestone streets, using the stones to build barriers, but quickly moved on to barbed wire and ugly concrete blocks. Ida Siekmann, an ordinary Hausfrau, watched in desperation as the wall rose to block the view from her third-floor apartment. She finally jumped rather than be stuck permanently behind a wall. She would have been 59 the next day. A memorial, often decorated with flowers, marks the spot where she died.
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