'I saw them build the Wall step by step'

The Local Germany
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'I saw them build the Wall step by step'
Tourists visit the Berlin Wall memorial at Bernauer Strasse in June, 2014. Photo: DPA / Maurizio Gambarini.

Germans visited the Berlin Wall memorial at Bernauerstrasse on Wednesday, the 53rd anniversary of the day the barrier between east and west was first raised. Those who lived through it shared their memories of that dark time, while youth recalled the importance of the Wall's history.


It started with barbed wire fencing, but within days, the barrier raised around West Berlin on August 13th, 1961, had morphed into a solid concrete wall.

Today, Berlin marks the division not only with the famous East Side Gallery art project, but with a memorial at the site of a former church demolished to make way for the Wall.

Sixty-nine-year-old Dr. Mugrauer, who was taking a stroll along one of the largest remaining stretches of the Wall at Berlin's Bernauer Straße on Wednesday, told The Local he remembers the day clearly.

"I was 19 at the time. I watched them building the Wall, step by step," he said, adding that he had lived within sight of the hated barrier on the Eastern side. "I was on the wrong side."

At completion the Wall spanned nearly 44 kilometres inside the city and another 112 km around the outskirts of West Berlin. 

Another heavily manned border split wider Germany in two. 136 people are confirmed to have died trying to escape to the West past the East German border guards stationed along it.

"It was a sad day and we, the regular people, felt powerless," said Mugrauer, who declined to give his Christian name.

Also taking a Wall walk on Wednesday was Nele Wagner, 16, who unlike one third of the young respondents to a survey this week, was aware of the August 13th anniversary. She had come to see the Wall on Wednesday for the first time with a friend.

 "I think it's important to be here at least once in our lives," said Wagner, who was on a visit from Cologne. "We have to know a bit about our history."

Also walking along the infamous death strip was Petra from North Rhine-Westphalia, who came to West Berlin to study in 1977 and stayed for 18 years.

By the time she arrived, she said, the fortified and heavily guarded no-man's-land was well established and people in West Berlin had little contact with the East


"It was not possible to see people on the other side," recalled the 57-year-old.

"Sometimes we went to East Berlin ... and it was just an adventure, but at the same time it was terrible and dark," she said. "We didn't feel good."

But for Petra, it was the November anniversary of the fall of the Wall which stayed in her mind for personal reasons.

"For me, it was very important, because my son was born three weeks later in Berlin," she said. "Unfortunately, I was pregnant and I wasn't able to be at the Wall when people were coming over."

This November 9th will see celebrations held for the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The depth of history to be found in Berlin was not lost on Paul from Hessen, a 16-year-old student who was visiting the memorial for the third time.

"It's really amazing to see all these things and learn the history," said Paul, who had not registered that the day was significant. He was happy to learn about the anniversary of the Wall's beginnings.

"This is really cool. I will think about it and I will tell friends that I was here on this special day," he said. "It's really important because not so many people know this."

Tomas Urbina is currently an Arthur F. Burns Fellow at The Local Germany.



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