Klaus Wowereit at a wreath-laying ceremony for Peter Fechter

“The Berlin Wall” by Klaus Wowereit

Today when people from all over the world come to Berlin to get to know our reunified city, they look in vain for walls and barbed wire. Even Berliners sometimes have a hard time identifying the former course of the Wall. Despite the decades of separation, the two halves of the city have since grown together, a phenomenon that is visible not only at our reconstructed Pariser Platz and at the more futuristic Potsdamer Platz.

On 13 August 1961, the Berlin Wall was erected by the ruling powers in Moscow and East Berlin, thereby closing the last gap in the Iron Curtain that divided all of Europe. The communist regime had failed and was no longer able or willing to watch its citizens continue to “vote with their feet.” Families and friends were torn apart, and lives and hopes were destroyed.

Desperate people displayed great ingenuity in their attempts to surmount the Wall, sometimes tunneling under it or even flying over it. More than a hundred people paid with their lives for their desire to be free, and many more were injured or imprisoned.

Symptoms of a breakdown in the socialist power structure – not least the courageous actions of dissident civil rights groups – gave Berliners and Germans a second chance. On 9 November 1989, Berliners from east and west fell into each other’s arms, sobbing with joy. Thousands celebrated the fall of the Wall at the crossing points and on top of the Wall itself. Pictures of this night – which will never be forgotten in Berlin – went around the world.

Just under a year later, on 3 October 1990, German unity became a reality also under international law. The desire for freedom and self-determination had won out. Berlin – for decades the center of confrontation and of the Cold War – was now a symbol of German unification and of the future of Europe.

The Berlin cityscape today contains only a few reminders of the formerly extensive Wall and border fortifications. Research institutions and memorial sites help to keep the memory of this inhumane border regime alive. The Berlin Wall Memorial on Bernauer Strasse opened on 13 August 1998 and the Documentation Center, with its first exhibition, on 9 November 1999.

We must preserve what remains of the Wall, not least out of a sense of historical responsibility. These remnants both recall the past and remind us of what it has to teach us. They recall the second dictatorship to be established on German soil in the 20th century, and they admonish us to work for peace, freedom, and justice.

At the beginning of a new millennium, Berlin is the capital of a free and reunified Germany – a Germany that has made peace with its neighbors and, as an integral part of western alliances, has found its place in the community of nations.

Klaus Wowereit
Governing Mayor of Berlin


Governing Mayor of Berlin
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10178 Berlin

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