Friday, August 13, 2010

This Day in History: The Berlin Wall Goes Up

In 2003, our family spent several days in Berlin, Germany. A trip to Europe is always an astounding experience. The sense of history there overwhelms me.

There is so much to admire but also lots to grieve.
Imagine that your country and even your city has been divided by the victors of war. You live in the area that is allowed to be a democracy.  But your grandmother, or maybe your children, or you fiancee is suddenly governed by communism. Thousands choose to leave the communist section, so a wall goes up. Overnight.

It is August 13 1961.

Your loved ones are on the other side of the wall.  

What would you do?  Try to get them out?  Many did and were truly ingenious in their attempts. When we visited Berlin, the Checkpoint Charlie Museum with its stories of daring escape attempts, left a huge imprint on my heart.

People smuggled each other to freedom in unbelievably ingenious ways - such as tucking an individual somewhere inside the belly of this vehicle and driving him out.

One woman climbed inside one kayak with another on top and rode out on the top of a car.

There were countless more who escaped.  Many died trying. It is now more than 20 years since the wall came down.  But if you have 9 minutes to watch this eloquent video clip about the wall in the early years, then watch. It's only a glimpse into lives shattered by war and its aftermath.  But perhaps a glimpse is enough.  Or perhaps it's all we can endure.

A few related books include:

The Wall is actually set in Prague in Czechoslovakia.  This Caldecott winner uses both text and drawings to powerfully depict life behind "The Iron Curtain" . 

The Wall Jumper appears to be for adults but would likely engage high school students who want to read about daring escapades while exploring the geopolitical landscape of a divided Germany.

There are countless nonfiction books on the Berlin Wall.

And this PBS documentary which is nearly an hour in length. A quick search at YouTube yields much more!

A recent documentary The Wall: A World Divided is available for viewing in its entirety at the PBS website.


  1. We have a small piece of the Berlin wall brought back by a friend who was there when it came down. It is a family treasure.

  2. So much to think about in this post! I wonder, what type of walls do we build here, in our everyday lives?

    Thanks for sharing a piece of history with us.

  3. Thanks for the suggestions. I should read up. The Peter Sis one looks particularly interesting.

  4. Emily, maybe you can visit Checkpoint Charlie Museum sometime. Not the best outing for a young child, however.