Socialist Worker

Living with the Wall, Berlin 1961-1989

by Martin Empson
Issue No. 2168

A memorial to Olga Segler, an East German killed in an attempt to escape over the Berlin Wall

A memorial to Olga Segler, an East German killed in an attempt to escape over the Berlin Wall


In the summer of 1989, I stood in front of the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin with my uncle. Looking at the Berlin Wall, he told me that it would be there forever. He couldn’t imagine a Berlin without it. Yet within a few months it was history.

As a young woman, my mother had watched the wall being built. Almost overnight the city was cut in two – travel between east and west was blocked, families separated, and streets cut in half.

For almost 30 years the city seemed permanently divided.

The pictures in this small exhibition capture the desolation of the wall’s history.

The bleak no man’s land, guarded by expressionless soldiers. The tramlines that no longer went anywhere. The memorials to those who died trying to escape. And finally, the joy of those breaking through in 1989.

One of the pictures is of a small child hammering at the concrete. It brought a smile to my face, because on my desk I have a chunk of wall, broken off when me and my family went back to witness the wall’s end.

This exhibition captures a contradiction – the wall seemed so permanent, yet eventually it was brought down by the very people it was meant to subdue.

Living with the Wall, Berlin 1961-1989
Imperial War Museum North, Manchester from 12 September


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Tue 8 Sep 2009, 19:38 BST
Issue No. 2168
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