Germany Marks Berlin Wall's 50th Anniversary

World | August 13, 2011, Saturday // 10:03|  views

A file picture dated 22 December 1989 shows a big group of Berlin citizens holding a German flag and a poster reading 'Deutschland Einig Vaterland' ('Germany United Fatherland') as they stand on Berlin Wall, in Berlin, Germany. Photo by EPA/BGNES

Germany is marking on Saturday the 50th anniversary of the building of the Berlin Wall, which stood as a symbol of the Cold War and the splitting of Europe for twenty-eight years.

The now German capital will observe a minute of silence at noon on Saturday in memory of those who died trying to cross to the West.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was raised in the East, will pay tribute on one street cut in half by the Wall, while President Christian Wulff will deliver a keynote speech.

Commemorations for the anniversary started overnight, with a seven-hour reading of the names of those who died trying to leave the communist east.

President Wulff told Die Welt newspaper the anniversary was a time to reflect.

"We have reason to be very pleased to live here and now. We can look with pride to East Germans' irrepressible desire for freedom and West Germans' solidarity with them."

Transport will stop in the German capital at noon for the minute's silence.

The construction of the wall started on the morning of 13 August 1961, when East German soldiers appeared at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin and rolls of barbed wire were stretched across the border there.

Eventually they built a wall that spread for nearly 160km with more than 300 watchtowers to prevent fugitives.

The number of people who died trying to cross the Wall is disputed - at least 136 are known to have been killed but victims' groups say the true number is more than 700.

The first victim was thought to be Guenter Liftin on 24 August 1961 and the last Chris Gueffroy on 6 February 1989.

Although the Wall came down in 1989, it remains for some a symbol of continuing economic division between the richer west and poorer east.

A surprising number of Germans even say they wouldn’t mind seeing the barrier go back up, according to a survey, conducted two years ago during the celebrations collapse of the Communist East German regime.

Performed by the Leipzig Institute for Market Research for the daily Leipziger Volkszeitung newspaper, the survey found that 12 percent of Germans would like to see the once-feared border fortification be quickly rebuilt. There was almost no difference in responses between former East and West Germans, suggesting equal levels of disenchantment with a reunified Germany on both sides of the former Iron Curtain.

Those who want to see the Wall rebuilt are mostly unemployed, working class and vote for The Left party, successors to the East German Socialist Unity Party which ruled the country until 1990 before being voted out of power months before German reunification on October 3, 1990.

The poll’s respondents were generally happy that the Wall opened and that Germany reunited, with 79 percent describing the event as a godsend and again, almost no difference in perception between eastern and western Germans.

Inequality in the new Germany was the biggest complaint for those surveyed, with 35 percent saying that generous social protections in both parts of the once-divided country have fallen away since 1989. Eastern Germans were more concerned about inequality, with 49 percent describing it as a problem, compared to 32 percent of West Germans.

A quarter of the respondents said their standard of living has fallen since 1989 - though western Germans complained of this more than those from the East.

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Tags: capital, German, europe, Gate, Brandenburg, Wulff, Christian, president, Merkel, Angela, Chancellor, West, East, Cold War, wall, Berlin, Germany, Iron Curtain, Germans, Eastern, Western


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