Fifty years ago, a long nightmare began

Fifty years ago this weekend the Berlin Wall was erected. A long, murderous nightmare began for East Germany’s citizens, imprisoned for decades by their own country behind barbed wire, concrete, explosives and guns. It would end only in 1989. (I still find it astonishing that many young people have never heard of the Berlin Wall, or even of the Cold War. What are our history teachers doing, to fail their students so badly?)

Here’s how the Berlin Wall started.

And here’s how it ended.

About 5,000 people made it across the Berlin Wall to freedom during its existence. No-one knows how many people died in the attempt. It’s believed that at least 136 perished, but the total may be much higher. The East German authorities didn’t make public the records of how many tried and were arrested, or shot, or blown up in minefields; and it’s believed that they deliberately failed to record many such statistics.

The Berlin Wall was, and will always be, one of the ultimate symbols of the evil of communism. President Reagan was right to refer to the Soviet Union as an ‘evil empire’ – the citizens of the former Warsaw Pact, enslaved by that empire, can and do bear witness to the truth of that label. When a state is so bereft of legitimacy that it must imprison its own citizens to stop them fleeing to greener pastures, that says it all, right there.

Thanks be to God that the Wall is no more. May those who died upon it, rest in peace: and let us never forget the terrible, tragic reality of their sacrifice.



  1. Teachers are training, the students how to pass the standardized tests that have become the end-all, be-all of public education today, rather than educating them, as they once did. Whoever designs the tests determines the curriculum. If the test designers don't think a certain topic is important, it won't be tested for, and thus won't be taught.

  2. I think that The Wall was, and still is, a statement of what does not work – separation, division, force. If nothing else, look at the Eastern section and its total lack of progress and creativity when it was reunited with West Berlin. And still there are political powers in the world today who would impose this type of life on their citizens, by force.

  3. I still curse the fact that I left Berlin for USAF basic training three days before the wall came down. I missed the most momentous historic event of my lifetime (to date) AND the biggest, wildest, most amazing party EVAR. *pout*

  4. I remember being utterly stunned that the wall was coming down. I literally could not imagine a world without the USSR and a divided Germany – it was all I'd known. I still choke up thinking about the GE commercial at Christmas that year: it was set to "Ode to Joy" and showed the lights coming back on in eastern Europe – Prague's velvet revolution, Hungary, the churches in Leipzig and the collapse of the Wall. The only hint that it might be a commercial was the GE logo at the end.

  5. I still remember my father taking me aside to explain what was happening, and exactly why it was so important. He did the same when the 1991 coup happened, and failed. The following year of Social Studies was my teacher explaining the collapse of the Soviet Union to us…

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