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Tear Down This Wall!

by on August 13, 2011

Many events in history are mixed with sadness and joy, by destruction and construction, and with observable and non-observable consequences.  Sometimes we celebrate by remembering destruction that is no more, and sometimes we celebrate by remembering construction that is no more.  Of all the events in modern history, the results of the Second World War are the most poignant; it is this history that people remember with sadness and joy, and with destruction and construction.  Joy is the wrong word, perhaps it is hope.  A belief that a better world can be built.  So thought the 2.5 million people that fled from East Germany to West Germany after the War.  “The Berlin Wall was erected in 1961 on the orders of East Germany’s former leader, Walter Ulbricht, to stop a population exodus,” but not all walls last forever.

Fifty years ago, today, on August 13, 1961, “East Berliners woke to find soldiers had blocked off the streets, cut off rail links and begun building a wall of barbed wire and cemented paving stones, which over the years grew in height and eventually stretched over 155km.”  Not all construction is good.  Nor is all destruction bad: the Berlin Wall was destined to fall after 28 years.  On June 12, 1987 – a little more than two years before the wall came down, President Reagan, in what may be his most resounding foreign policy speech, if not his most resounding action, – spoke what has become an immortal line: General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!

Germany is remembering the construction of wall, which began fifty years ago today, with an event that “began overnight on Saturday at a chapel, with a seven-hour-long reading about the lives of those killed while seeking freedom as they fled East Germany for West Germany.edom and democracy around the world….Church bells peeled while trains and traffic came to a standstill at noon across Berlin for a moment of silence for the victims.”

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