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50 Years After the Berlin Wall

August 12, 2011

Saturday (August 13) is the 50th anniversary of the construction of the Berlin Wall.  Probably the most poignant symbol of the Cold War, the fall of the wall in 1989 also symbolized the end of the conflict between capitalism and communism in Europe (see our post Happy 20th Anniversary Germany!).  While it has now been more than 20 years since the wall came down, as NPR broadcasted on August 12, an “invisible wall” of mentality still exists in Berlin today.  Part of this is economic, as a clear divide in income and employment still exists between the Lander (states) of the former German Democratic Republic (East Germany) and the western Lander (our post 20 Years After the Fall, Uniting Germany Still a Work in Progress shows this through maps).  As a result, while some are now nostalgic for the old East Germany, other Berliners still suffer from “Wall Sickness.”

And then there is the wall itself.  The wall was quickly torn down in 1989-1990 as a symbol of the reunifying Germany, so that until recently only three of the guard towers and a few stretches of the wall remained.  Among the still standing sections, much of it was poor condition (see pictures below from the EU Center’s 2006 “EU in the 21st Century” study abroad program).  However, recently some of the wall has been rebuilt along Bernauer Strasse, where many of the most dramatic escapes occurred.

Of course, the Berlin government promises that there will be no “Disneyland-ifcation”.  However, this may be easier said than done.  One of the most famous parts of the wall was the border post connecting the US sector of West Berlin to East Berlin, known as Checkpoint Charlie.  Like the wall itself, the large, almost factory-like passport control and customs inspection centers were removed with German reunification.  But a much simpler border post from the 1950s has since reappeared, and as the last picture shows, certain Disneyland like qualities have appeared in the past 20 years.

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