In 1945, after World War II, Germany was divided by the victors into two countries. East Germany was controlled by the communist regime of the Soviet Union. West Germany was a democracy supported by the U.S. The former capital city of Berlin, although it was entirely within East German borders, was also partitioned in two. In 1961, the East Germans erected a 103-mile barrier to separate East Berlin from West Berlin. The Berlin Wall blocked free access in both directions for twenty-eight years. In November 1989, the Wall was opened, and East German citizens could once again travel without restriction to the West.
"A few steps. From one world to the other. We are in pre-1990 Berlin, Friedrichstrasse, Checkpoint Charlie. Our world has Coca-Cola, Mercedes cars, holidays abroad, and changing governments. A few meters up the street, we enter their world of state-owned factories, grey apartment blocks, an imposed monolithic government and a command economy selling pale imitations of popular western products." Chris De Witt writes about his fascination with the Berlin Wall and his travels there during the eighties.
Last year Daimler-Benz AG of Germany gave Microsoft a twelve-foot high, four-foot wide, three-and-a-half-ton section of the Berlin Wall. The piece is covered with colorful graffiti, painted as an expression of protest against the Stalinist East German regime. Wall art, however, was always temporary. Because even the west side of The Wall stood on East German land, the authorities would periodically order it whitewashed, thereby creating a fresh canvas for new artistic endeavors. This terrific online exhibit explores the Wall from a historical, sociological, artistic, and personal perspective.
On June 26, 1963, in the shadow of the Berlin Wall, President John F. Kennedy delivered a speech that paid tribute to the Berliners' quest for freedom. The crowd roared with approval upon hearing the President's dramatic words, "Ich bin ein Berliner" (I am a Berliner). Twenty- four years later, President Ronald Reagan made an appearance at the Berlin Wall and challenged Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down this wall" to demonstrate his commitment to profound change.
"Novice historian" Ursula Grosser Dixon tells her personal account of the fall of the Wall and the reunification of Germany. "This monstrous barrier, which had caused so much grief and pain for so many, has become nothing but a sad memory. But the most amazing wonder of it all: It happened without violence, it happened because people wanted to live in peace and freedom."