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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Walls

A little over 25 years ago the Berlin wall opened to free travel. My father spent his childhood and youth in Berlin, though he left long before the wall went up. Anyway, I felt more than slightly interested in this event, and the spring after the opening of the borders, my son, my parents and I spent some time in Berlin. There were portions of the wall still standing, though people were chipping away at it.

When my father lived there, Berlin was the capital of Germany. and the country and the city were still whole. At the end of World War II (1945), Germany and Berlin were divided, originally into 4 occupation zones (the United States, Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union).  Eventually these were amalgamated into East and West Germany and East and West Berlin. It should be noted that Berlin was located in East Germany. The Soviet Union opposed the other allies’ plans to create a West German republic so on the 26 of June, 1948, they blockaded all ground travel into Berlin. This began the Berlin Air Lift, which brought needed supplies (food, coal, etc.) to West Berlin. My father's mother was living in East Berlin at the time. We were living in West Germany and I'd been born earlier that year. My grandmother had wanted my father to move the family to Berlin; instead, he and my mother started talking about emigrating to Canada. The airlift lasted until May 11, 1949 when the Soviet Union again allowed ground traffic.

The wall wasn’t built until 1961, overnight with no warning. It was a response by the Soviet Union to massive numbers of East Germans fleeing to the west, though they called it protection against western fascists.

Walls can keep people out or in. They are necessary to build houses that protect and shelter us from weather. Walls may enclose gardens or fields. They can be beautiful or ugly. People may build psychological or other walls to protect themselves or to keep out others.

The Berlin wall became a symbol of a divided people, of oppression, of the Cold War. For many Berliners it was a constant stark reminder of tyranny. I heard of a writer in West Germany who deliberately chose an apartment where he saw the wall every day from his windows. We've all heard the stories of those who died trying and those who succeeded in crossing the wall and the “death strip.”

There are many different kinds of walls – walls of prejudice and hate, “glass ceilings” preventing promotions, walls of poverty, lack of education, walls of ignorance and a refusal to see the issues before us.

It’s early to be making new year’s wishes, but it seems appropriate: I wish we’d all spend as much time and money tearing down walls as we spend on armament and war.

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