Who didn’t experience it can’t imagine what it meant to have Germany’s biggest city and former capital separated by a 66 mile long, 12 ft high wall for 28 years.
The Wall essentially made West Berlin an island, tore families and friends apart, cut off streets and subway lines and imprisoned people who lived in the East.
The Wall was erected to prevent a “brain drain” in the East. Young, well educated people tended to emigrate to West Germany in the 1950’s, while the boarders were still open, because of the better living conditions in the West.
The reinforcement was fierce. A parallel fence was built some 110 yd further into East Germany what established what was later known as the death strip. It was raked with sand or gravel to render footprints easy to notice. Trespasser were easy detected, there was no cover and it offered a clear field of fire for the wall guards.
Further enforcements were mesh fencing, signal fencing, anti vehicle trenches, barbed wire, dogs, trip wires with a self shot system and mines.
My father used to own a travel agency in Berlin. I did visit Berlin quite frequently in the 80’s and we used to stay at a friends apartment were you had a direct view of the death strip. Even though being still a teenager back then I remember that I marveled about the darkness of it all. The dogs, the guards, the insanity of the whole thing.
But the wall wasn’t able to suppress peoples natural strive for freedom. Around 5000 defected successfully during the years of the wall. Estimated 100-200 people died while attempting to cross the boarder.
Then came the year 1989 and something happened that even though I was still young I did not expect witnessing during my lifetime. The Wall fell and was no more. One question remained though. All that pain, all that suffering, what for?
Hard to Believe that 25 years have passed. Today, living in Berlin, you have no idea were the Wall was once standing.
This is why the “Lichtgrenze” (light-border) event this weekend was such an amazing idea. On a 9.5 miles path about 8000 lit balloons on stands stood were the wall was once before, again dividing the city but this time only by light.
Yesterday, the day the wall fell 25 years ago these balloons were symbolically released while thousands were watching. It was a beautiful way to deal with a very dark past.