Berlin Neighborhood Remembers Wall's Construction

It will be 50 years ago Saturday that construction began on the Berlin Wall. The barrier that divided East and West Berlin eventually grew to be 27 miles long. In one area in the center of the city, a section of the wall still stands.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

This weekend, the world marks the anniversary of some not so ancient history. Fifty years ago, in 1961, communist East Germany built a wall to enforce the division between East and West Berlin. It was an effort to stop people from fleeing west. The wall went up in the middle of the night. People woke to find it there on August 13. Let's listen to some of the moments in the wall's history, from its sudden construction to its abrupt destruction in 1989.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #1: The attention of an anxious world is focused on East and West Germany and Berlin. A last great exodus of refugees...

Unidentified Man #2: Communist troops in force on every street corner.

Unidentified Man #3: East Berliners who have apartments facing the border take the long chance - from fourth and fifth floor windows they flee. This woman drops...

Unidentified Man #4: A young couple in East Berlin, separated from the bride's mother in the west, wave to the tearful woman. That is Berlin today.

President JOHN F. KENNEDY: Today in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is ich bin ein Berliner.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Unidentified Man #5: Today, tourist buses queue up to inspect the sights of Berlin. To have such a barrier right through the middle of a city is difficult for the visitors to take in.

President RONALD REAGAN: Mr. Gorbachev, tear this wall.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Unidentified Man #7: Astonishing news from East Germany, where the East German authorities have said, in essence, that the Berlin Wall doesn't mean anything anymore.

Unidentified Man #8: In the middle of the checkpoint, the gates have been opened. The police are making no attempt to stop people as they go through and come back. I have never seen such elation.

(Soundbite of cheering)

INSKEEP: The cheers of Germans opening the Berlin Wall in 1989. Now at midnight tonight, Berliners will commemorate the anniversary of the wall's construction in 1961 - 50 years ago.

In a moment, we'll hear from a man who lived for decades on the east side of that wall. First, we go to NPR's Bilal Qureshi.

BILAL QURESHI: In this quiet, residential neighborhood in the center of the city, a section of the Berlin Wall still stands. It's on a street called Bernauer Strasse. The Wall once ran right along here, with East Germany on one side and´┐ŻWest Berlin on the other.

This was a no-man's land. It was covered in barbed wire, constantly monitored by watch towers. Today, Bernauer Strasse is in one of the city's most chic neighborhoods.

(Soundbite of chimes)

Unidentified Woman #1: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Woman #2: (Foreign language spoken)

QURESHI: Trams and bikes glide along the renovated apartment buildings. And that no-man's land has been turned into a park.

(Soundbite of whistling)

Some people who live here say this is just another weekend in their neighborhood. But Stephanie Kespohl says coming here now with her 12-year-old daughter and her friend is a reminder of how Berlin has changed.

Ms. STEPHANIE KESPOHL: Now everything is unified. And it's interesting for them also, because for them it's one Berlin.

QURESHI: This weekend, the city has invited Germans to come here to reflect on the wall.

Mr. FLORIAN WITMANN: (Foreign language spoken)

QURESHI: Resident Florian Witmann says Germans tend to focus on the day the wall came down, but that this weekend is a chance to remember the day the divisions began.

The official program begins this evening with a reading of the names of those who died trying to cross the wall.

Bilal Qureshi, NPR News, Berlin.

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