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Sunday, 14 August 2011

Remember Berlin Wall construction day

Visitors pass a camera through a hole in part of the Berlin Wall on Saturday as the city marks the day when communist East Germany sealed itself off behind the wall. STEFFI LOOS / AP
BERLIN — Berlin on Saturday commemorated the construction of the Berlin Wall — isolating the west of the city for 28 years — which began 50 years ago on Aug. 13, 1951.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said the occasion underlined the importance of supporting freedom and democracy around the world.

"The injustice of constructing the wall reminds us, to this day, to stand for freedom, democracy and civil rights, at home and abroad," the chancellor told the German Press Agency.

Merkel, the daughter of a protestant pastor, was born in West Germany but moved to the East with her family at a young age.

"I personally — as I was 7 years old in 1961 — remember the terror that the construction of the wall triggered in my family. We were also separated violently from aunts and grandparents," Merkel said.

"It is all the more unforgettable how happy the fall of this terrible structure made us Germans in 1989," she added.

President Christian Wulff said Germany had to encourage more freedom within its borders, by helping immigrants integrate in Germany and by allowing people to reach their full potential.

He recalled the activism that brought the wall down, saying: "The Wall did not fall, it was toppled."

Wulff also made mention of those who died along the border separating East and West Germany, as well as those imprisoned or persecuted for political reasons.

At the same time, he said, millions more were affected as they were denied the opportunity of determining their own lives.

The Berlin Wall — which began as barbed wire and guards preventing people from crossing into West Berlin — was erected by the East German authorities to stem the flow of citizens escaping the Communist regime.

It cut West Berlin off from the outside world, isolating it in the middle of East Germany. A separate wall was erected along the border between East and West Germany.

Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit said the city had developed rapidly since the fall of the wall on Nov. 9, 1989, and German reunification a year later.

"However, there are also people in eastern Germany who have been thrown off track by these changes," Wowereit added.

He rejected the nostalgia that some Germans still felt for the country's division, into East Germany corresponding to the Soviet occupation zone after World War II, and West Germany, which was formed from the U.S., British and French-occupied areas.

"It is shocking that even today, some people think the (ruling East German) Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) had good reasons for the isolation," the mayor said.

The issue has led to a recent row within the radical Left Party, which includes many former SED members, as senior party members have sought to gloss over the worst aspects of the totalitarian East German state.

The president of the European Parliament, Jerzy Buzek, said he was a student visiting what became East Berlin on the day the Wall was erected.

"The Berlin Wall was Europe's nightmare for more than 28 years. It symbolized the division of our continent and the contempt and violation of basic human rights," he said.

Across Berlin, events were held to commemorate the construction of the Wall.

From midnight, the biographies of the 136 people known to have died at the Berlin Wall were read out in the Chapel of Reconciliation, built after unification on the former "death strip" separating East and West.

The city also hosted open-air cinema screenings and guided visits to historic sites along the Wall, most of which has been removed in the 20 years since reunification.

Flags flew at half-mast, and across Germany, people observed a minute of silence at midday. In Berlin, church bells rang, and public transport came to a halt for 60 seconds of remembrance.

Berlin newspapers republished copies of their front pages documenting the construction of the Wall 50 years ago. Tabloid BZ published a "West" and "East" edition, each of which left blank spaces in lieu of articles about the other half of the city.

ORIGINAL POST: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2015903685_berlinwall14.html


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