- (Reuters/Pawel Kopczynski)
Today marks the birth of the Berlin Wall; construction began the morning of August 13, 1961 – fifty years ago.
The city observed a minute of silence at noon to remember those who died trying to escape the tyranny.
Mayor Wowereit, addressed those attending the solemn ceremony on Bernauer, a street once divided by the Wall and is now the site of a memorial, said Berlin remembers the “saddest day in its recent history.”
Wowereit stated, "It is our common responsibility to keep alive the memories and pass them on to the next generation, to maintain freedom and democracy and to do everything so that such injustices may never happen again.”
Originally a barbed wire fence, the Berlin Wall spread for almost 100 miles. Soldiers from the communist east used it to establish a concrete divide between West Berlin and East Germany. Minefields were placed in certain sectors and over 300 watchtowers were erected to spot escapees.
The Wall closed the last open “gap” in the border to West Berlin. Citizens of East Germany could not leave unless permitted and at least 136 people died or were killed trying to escape at the Berlin Wall between the years 1961 and 1989 when the wall toppled.
In present day, an increasing number of tourists visit Berlin every year in search of remnants of the Wall. The city has re-erected and restored parts of the Berlin Wall, but new buildings have been constructed along many parts of the former “death strip,” making it difficult to distinguish where the divide once stood.
Ex-Mayor of Berlin Eberhard Diepgen recently proposed reconstructing parts of the Wall, “with barbed wire, watch towers, and spring guns, so the brutality of the system is evident.”
Wowereit addressed the proposition on Saturday and said, "We don't have any tolerance for those who nostalgically distort the history of the Berlin Wall and Germany's division.”
However, there are citizens who agree with Diepgen. Wolfgang Engels, a recruit for the East German army, who helped build the wall in 1961, is one of them.
Engels said he attempted to escape, when he could no longer withstand the pressure, and was shot twice in the process. West Berliners saved Engels by pulling him through the barbed wire.
Despite almost losing his life, Engels believes more of the Wall should have been preserved.
According to Wowereit, the Wall was from a time of dictatorship and “it's alarming that even today some people argue there were good reasons to build the Wall. No! There's no legitimate reason nor justification for violating human rights and for killings,” he said.
Those from a younger generation, say they don’t mind that there is not much of the wall left.
Saturday’s ceremony took place along an 800-meter-long piece of the Wall that was rebuilt on Bernauer Strasse.