Déjà Vu All Over Again: Building a Wall
Last week while we all blew noisemakers and wore party hats to celebrate the the 100th anniversary of America’s National Park Service, we let another anniversary slip by with less fanfare. On August 26, 1961, the Berlin Wall became more than just a barbed wire and cinder block barricade.
If you want a vivid and detailed description of the construction and impact of the wall, I recommend reading Thomas Harding’s The House by the Lake. Here’s the short version:
Construction of the wall began on August 12–a Soviet response to the thousands of East Germans who fled to the western sectors of Berlin. It was now illegal to cross the wall and border guards were instructed to shoot anyone who tried. On August 24, twenty-four-year-old Günter Litfin became the first East German to be shot as he tried to escape to the West. Two days later, West Berliners were forbidden from crossing into the East.
The wall stood as an international symbol of oppression until November, 1989. Many (most?) of us watched with tears of joy when East Berliners destroyed the wall with their own hands.*
Today some politicians here in the United States propose building another wall on another border. Really, people? Is this the example you want to follow?
*I still tear up just typing these words.
I read this book, I think on your recommendation, and found it pertinent. I liked it.
I was an exchange student in Germany that year. I still remember how viscerally the effect had on me. I was outraged, in disbelief and sad that the “West” was doing nothing about it. I was embarrassed for my country and naive to think they would react in this way. You see I was living as an exchange student with a family in Braunschweig. One hour from the border of the Eastern sector of Germany this population knew very well what the ramifications would be. The family who had come as refuges in the late 50’s to live in the “West” were willing to take me for one year in good faith. They had and still have family there that were not able to come over for various reasons including loosing their property, lack of income to immigrate and a deep tie to the region in which they were born. I found through reading what the older and the younger generation encountered in a system that they had 23 years before lived through and hoped to leave behind in 1945.
I recommend the book.
Thank you for sharing your personal experience of the Berlin Wall. It’s the kind of thing that brings the past to life.