No time for nostalgia: The Berlin Wall’s 50th birthday

Fifty years ago today (August 13) the Berlin Wall rose its ugly head (in 1961). While the collapse of the Wall may be fresher in our minds, the construction of the Berlin Wall was one of the world’s most glaring crimes against humanity – even though many people still fail to realize that.

Berlin’s mayor, Klaus Wowereit, had to remind people of that today. He chastised those Germans and others who somehow have some nostalgic view of the Wall (Berlin mayor criticizes nostalgia for Berlin Wall). There is nothing nostalgic about a concrete barrier set up to divide families and imprison a country’s entire population – and that led to many deaths.

“We don’t have any tolerance for those who nostalgically distort the history of the Berlin Wall and Germany’s division,” Wowereit said at the ceremony in front of a small section of the Wall recently rebuilt for posterity. “The Wall was part of a dictatorship,” he said. “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.”

Wowereit did admit that perhaps more of the Wall should have been preserved – to remind people of its despicable purpose. But Berliners were so happy to see it come down in 1989, that they failed to do more for its historic preservation. Today it is difficult to find any traces of the Wall in Berlin.

The Wall may be gone, but its effects are still with us. There is still a mental divide between east and west Germans, even 22 years after the Wall fell. Two decades later there are still Wall-caused injustices in Germany: Teachers and other workers in Berlin and Germany still have east-west pay discrepancies, with eastern Germans receiving lower pay than western Germans for the same work, sometimes even in the same school or office. That may have been justified in the first years after reunification, but not 22 years later.

Most observers say it will take a generation before the “Wall in the head” is gone. It may even take longer than that. But Germany and the Germans are moving in that direction. East and West are slowly coming together, despite some problems. You can’t erase 40 years of injustice in only 20 years.

Also see:

Berlin Wall Timeline from the German Way

Tearing Down Berlin’s Mental Wall by Peter Schneider (New York Times)