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.