Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Berlin Wall


Dr Ruwan M Jayatunge

On November 9, 1989 the East Germany's Communist rulers opened the Berlin Wall as the aftermath of Perestroika and Glasnost and also by the continuous pressure of the Easter German Public. The Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev who played a key role in this historic event got a hero's welcome yesterday.

I still recall some events relating to the Berlin Wall that took place when I was a medical student. When the time I crossed the Berlin Wall in 1988 to enter the West Berlin I had a gut feeling that this wall would not last forever. Being a non White and not look like a German I had no problems with the East German border guards. They allowed me to cross the Wall. But Vethalik who was from Riga had a little trouble and the East German Authorities triple checked his documents in order to make sure that he was not an East German in disguise. But eventually Vethalik was released.

Many East Germans whom I have met at that time were eager to cross the Berlin Wall and go to the West Germany. I specifically remember the words of a young East German whose name was Heinrich. He was so fascinated by the musical show conducted by David Bowie near the Berlin Wall West side. He said to me “my dream is to go to cross the Wall some day and start a new life in West Germany ” Although he had thought that there was a heaven in the Western part we knew the mental picture he had was not hundred percent accurate.

The Berlin Wall was erected in the night of August 13, 1961. This decision was made by the Communist parties of the German Democratic Republic (GDR ) and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union met in Moscow and they decided to close the open border between East and West Berlin. The wall separated many families. Dispute the restrictions many people fled the Eastern part and entered the West. Then the GDR took stern measures. They built a concrete wall which earned the name Berlin Wall. The Berlin Wall was officially referred to as the “Anti Fascist Protection Wall" by the GDR.

The total border length around West Berlin was 155 km . There were 302 watch towers and 20 bunkers. Nearly 192 persons were killed on the Berlin Wall when they tried to defect to the West side. In 1953 East Berliners rised up against the totalitarian system but the uprising was crushed with the help of Moscow. In 1955, the USSR declared that the GDR was fully sovereign. However the Red Army troops remained in East German territory, based on the four-power Potsdam Agreement .

The German Democratic Republic, which had been founded on 7 October 1949. Many Germans who opposed Hitler's NAZI policies supported the new regime. The were willing to develop GDR in an anti-fascist model. But strict censorship alienated the people and the regime. GDR became another totalitarian sate. The East German secret service also known as STASI controlled the people with an iron fist even interfering in their private lives. STASI recruited a large number of agents and some calculations have concluded that in East Germany there was one informer to every seven citizens.

One should not forget that there was a positive side of East Germany as well. In the GDR everyone had a legally guaranteed security of tenure and ownership to the properties where they lived. The unemployment rate was low and free education and health care was guaranteed. GDR achieved many victories in international sports. But East Germans may have valued freedom as an utmost valuable component in their lives. Therefore during the Wall's existence there were around 5,000 successful escapes to West Berlin.

In a speech at the Brandenburg Gate in 1987 Ronald Regan said to Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall that stood an obstacle to the human freedom. The disintegration of the wall brought with it the freedom to travel the world and, for some, more material wealth, but it also brought social breakdown, widespread unemployment and social insecurity. Berlin Wall taught us a lesson . Freedom is not cheep. Its expensive.


  1. Lot of memories. I heard Most people lives in Leipzig area wanted Eastern system back. Lot of factories closed etc and western German companies cheated them. But almost of them in unison hate Stazi.

  2. We always went to East berlin to have a better meal when we changed the marks to east german currency.

  3. කරුණාකර මෙම ලිපියේද සිංහල පරිවර්ථනයක් පල කරණ්න!


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