“Nobody has the intention of building a wall.” – GDR head of state Walter Ulbricht, East Berlin, June 15th 1961
For me, for everyone I suppose, some places can have a real impact when we visit them. The Berlin Wall was one such place. History hangs in the air, so thick you can almost touch it, almost feel it, almost smell it. Other places that I have visited that have had similar impact for me are Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Poland and Clairière de l’Armistice at Compiegne in Northern France.
Today I walked along a section of the wall, I ran my fingers across its harsh, hostile, concrete surface, I read the conflicting messages of anger and hope that it been scrawled across it, I was stunned by just how grotesquely ugly it was, I remembered all of the things that frightened me about the wall when I was a young boy.
Today as tourists we have our picture taken against a souvenir section of the wall, we smiled for the camera, fifty years ago people died trying to get across it and escape to the west, they didn’t smile. I thought about that as we had this picture taken.
The Berlin Wall divided the city from 1961 to 1989. In the German Democratic Republic it was an offence to leave the country without permission. The border guards were duty bound at all time “to arrest or eliminate border violators”. The border regime was based on barriers and border guards at regular intervals and above all on the permitted use of firearms. The border guards who successfully stopped escapes were rewarded with a decoration and a bonus.
This extract is taken from one of the information boards…
“Between the construction and removal of the wall, in twenty-eight years approximately forty-thousand East Germans managed to escape to the west. Several hundred were shot dead by border guards or suffered fatal accidents whilst trying to do so.
At least one hundred and forty people died whist trying to cross the Berlin Wall. One hundred and one were either gunned down, had an accident or committed suicide. Thirty one people from both sides of the wall who were simply curious and had no intention of crossing were also shot dead. Two hundred and fifty one died whilst being controlled at the border crossings and untold numbers died from grief and despair as an indirect consequence of the wall and the impact that it had on their lives.”
I couldn’t help wondering what I would have done. I almost certainly wouldn’t have been brave enough to try and escape so I guess that that like thousands of others I would have accepted life under a secretive and brutal totalitarian regime. Most likely I would have shot my mouth off and found myself in prison.
Perhaps Donald Trump should visit the site and see for himself the dreadful consequences of building a wall to separate people.
Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…