Fifty Years Later, The Berlin Wall Is History

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Fifty years ago this weekend, construction began on one of the starkest landmarks of the Cold War. NPR's Tom Gjelten is in Germany for the anniversary of the construction of the Berlin Wall.

JOHN YDSTIE, host: In Berlin, Germany, a somber commemoration: It was 50 years ago this weekend that authorities in the Soviet-controlled east side of the city began building a wall to separate it from the capitalist west side. NPR's Tom Gjelten is in Berlin at the historic site.

TOM GJELTEN: August 13, 1961 was a Sunday. In the early hours that day, East German police here stopped all traffic from east to west and began tearing up the streets that connected the two sides of the city. This is Friedrichstrasse, one of the few streets that were left open for officially-approved crossings. Checkpoint Charlie was here, one of the most famous Cold War symbols. Now, it's a tourist stop. A two-block stretch wall of the old wall still stands nearby. It's ugly, poured concrete, chipped and hacked at. On this August 13th, Friedrichstrasse is packed with people, Germans and foreigners, here out of curiosity or to recall the tragedies represented here. More than 100 East Germans were killed at the wall, most shot dead by East German border guards while trying to escape. But a few blocks from here there's no sign whatsoever of the wall. Berlin has grown back together, and authorities have done all they can to erase the line that once divided this city. Tom Gjelten, NPR News, at the site of the Berlin Wall, erected 50 years ago this weekend.


YDSTIE: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

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