Imagine you wake up one morning and you are no longer able to visit your friends across the street, or your grandmother at the other part of town.
This is what happened to the people in Germany in 1961. Right through the middle of their capital and the whole country the army had built a huge wall, basically overnight, with concrete and barb wire and soldiers monitoring that no one would cross it.
The reason this happened was World War II. Germany had started and then lost the War. The nations who won – the United States, Great Britain, France and what used to be the Soviet Union divided German territory into West Germany, ruled by the US, Great Britain and France and East Germany, ruled by the Soviet Union.
Both sides had very different ideas about their governments and started what was called the “Cold War”. Whereas the West was all about democracy, the former Soviet Union was a communist state. People in the West did much better and lived a more prosperous life with more possibilities which made many people of Eastern Germany want to move to the West. To prevent them from doing so the Soviet Army started building a wall and kept East Germans captive in their own country. In 1989 the situation for Germans in the East had gotten so bad that they fought for the wall to be torn down. The fact that the state was bankrupt, which means it didn’t have any money left, helped the situation of the protesters and accelerated the fall of the GDR (that’s how East Germany was called).
Empty shelves, no freedom and constant supervision
The people in East Germany didn’t have the same life as their fellow Germans in the West. They couldn’t buy the same products, often there actually wasn’t anything at all sold in the stores. They didn’t get the same information what was happening in the world nor could they read the same books as people in the West. The government told them where they could live and what jobs they could have. Traveling was only allowed to other countries controlled by the Soviet Union such as Hungary or Poland. And worst of all, the GDR government closely monitored everything its people did and if someone said something negative about the state they got arrested. Many people tried to flee East Germany and either paid with their lives or spent many years in prison.
Walls or Bridges?
Over 2000 years ago, people were already building walls. Hadrian’s Wall for example, built in 122 CE, divided Britain and Scotland. Today there are dividing walls in Baghdad, Tijuana, Jerusalem or North and South Korea. They are supposed to “protect” people from each other.
What do you think, are walls the right way to get along with others or would we rather need bridges that allow us to learn from others and to help each other out.