The Berlin wall was made of concrete, with guard towers, and divided
Germany between 1961 and 1989. It was built by the German Democratic
Republic (GDR East Germany) to cut off West Berlin from the surrounding
East Germany, including East Berlin. The mayor of Berlin, Willy Brandt,
called the wall the ‘wall of shame.’ Along with the border between West and
East Germany it was known as the iron curtain separating the west from the
east during the cold war. Between 1981 and 1989 over 100,000 people tried
to escape from the east, and over 5,000 succeeded. At least 200 people died
trying to escape.
After a series of revolutions in neighbouring countries there was civil unrest in east Germany and the government
announced that people were free to travel to West Berlin and West Germany. People climbed onto the wall and much of it
was torn down, celebrating the end of a divided country. People took pieces of the wall as souvenirs and the Brandenburg
gate was opened on 22nd December 1989. November 9, 1989 is recognized as the date of the fall of the Berlin Wall, although
the official demolition started on June 13, 1990. The demolition was completed in 1992. German reunification took place on
October 3rd, 1990.
When the wall stood many ways to escape were concocted including hot air balloons, tunnels, sliding along wires, crawling
through sewers and driving into the wall.The first person to be shot and killed when he tried to cross to West Berlin by
swimming across the Spree was Gunter Liftin, in August 1961. The East German police had received ‘shoot to kill’ orders.
Peter Fechter was 18 years old when he was shot as he tried to escape from Eastern Germany. He was allowed to bleed to
death in August 1962 as the Western media watched. The world deplored the situation and many of the people of Eastern
Germany sank into depression.
A story of hope comes from St. Nicholas Church in Leipzig, where from 1982 onwards, prayers were held followed by
candlelit processions for freedom which gradually spread all over East Germany. From October 1989 refugees poured out
of East Germany and by November ‘the gates in the wall stood open wide.’
Identify places in the world where people are restricted today, including being prevented from leaving. Find out the best
way to support people, perhaps by prayer, or letter writing.
Contact Amnesty International at the registered office, 17 - 25 New Inn Yard, London. EC2A 3EA.
Read - ‘The House by the Lake,’ by Thomas Harding. William Heinemann, 2015.
This book tells the story of Germany from the 19th Century to the present day, through the people who lived in the house by
the lake near Berlin. When the wall was built it divided the house from the lake.