In August 1961, a barbed-wire barrier was erected between East and West Berlin. A few days later, workers started building a concrete block wall. Residents of East were no longer allowed to enter the West. The “Iron Curtain” that Winston Churchill had spoken about in a 1946 speech had now come to fruition. (MSN homepage 8-13-2011)
This photo from 1961 shows the Berlin Wall, built by the East German government to seal off East Berlin from the part of the city occupied by the three main western powers (U.S., Great Britain and France), and to prevent mass illegal emigration to the West.
To see the complete article By Chris Rodell, msnbc.com contributor:
As a young man on military assignment in what was then, “West Germany,” I had the opportunity to spend several months monitoring military activities on the border of “East Germany.” Having first learned about the construction of the Berlin Wall in grammar school history class, the sense of what it was all about was not entirely clear, but later on in high school, the full implications of the separation of East and West Germany were much clearer, so when I was sent to Germany on my first overseas tour of duty years later, I had a keen sense of what the “Wall” represented. After my first visit to the border area, the value of the freedoms we enjoy as Americans took on a whole new level of appreciation.
My assignment took me to a number of small towns and villages on the West German side, and it was clear from the particularly warm and friendly reception US troops experienced in these places that the people who lived in the border towns knew very well that the wall was meant to prevent the East Germans from leaving, and not to keep the Westerners out as the Soviets proclaimed. After World War II, millions fled the Eastern section to escape the difficult economic and political disadvantages until the wall was built, beginning fifty years ago today, August 13, 1961 in Berlin.
It is difficult for people today to appreciate what it was like to experience such a sight during the “Cold War,” and as a young soldier on duty there, in the winter of 1975, I wrote a description of the first time I saw “The Wall:”
“The road leading up to the border was sinister, desolate, and uninviting. The trees which lined the road were all barren and lifeless, silhouetted against the snow and the sun-lit mist which lingered in the valley ahead. I paused momentarily along the roadside and took a deep breath. An unnatural silence filled the air around me, and I felt my heart begin to throb against my chest; my very life force making more noise than anything else around me. As I slowly began to move toward the wall, my footsteps crunched rhythmically in the snow, and I felt frightened even though I was unaware of any particular cause for alarm.
Finally, I stepped up to the “grenzubersichtspunkt,” or “border observation point,” and saw the fence which ran conspicuously along the landscape, cutting it in half.”
“All fear had left me now, replaced by bewilderment. The mass of barbed wire and concrete appeared more menacing up close than it had from a distance, and I was momentarily stunned, holding my breath until I slowly exhaled as I took in my first up-close glimpse of the inexplicable sight. I searched within myself for some sort of understanding or context to explain the experience in terms of my own temporal life. There was none, and there could be none.
As I turned to leave, I wished there had been more than just a vague recollection of history lessons to prepare me for what I saw on that frozen road, thousands of miles from home. I walked away from that place changed forever.”
Thousands of young East Berliners crowd atop the Berlin Wall near the Brandenburg Gate on Nov. 11, 1989. One day earlier, an official had declared that starting from midnight East Germans would be free to leave the country, without permission, at any point along the border. (Gerard Malie / AFP – Getty Images)
The triumph represented by the demolition of the wall in 1989 is clear evidence of the power of the human spirit, and also demonstrates how our cognitive endowment, which provides us access to an extraordinary experiential awareness, gives us a sense of unity with all humanity–an essential component to our understanding of human consciousness.