August 13th may seem to be a day like any other, but if you’re a history buff or an ardent anti-communist, you know that August 13th has some serious significance. August 13th, 1961 was the day that construction began on the Berlin Wall. I’m 22-years-old, but I have lived my entire life without Berlin Wall. Likely, you too weren’t even born during the tenure of the wall. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t know what the Berlin Wall meant for the world and why we celebrate every single year that it’s been torn down. Here are five things you need to know about the Berlin Wall on this day, the anniversary of its construction start.

Why Berlin was divided

Before we can get to the wall that physically divided the country, let’s look at why the country was divided to begin with. After World War II, no one was really happy with Germany, as can be expected. The Postdam Agreement came about in the fall of 1945. It divided Germany into four parts, each controlled by one of the Allies: United States, the United Kingdom, France, and the Soviet Union. Berlin, which was still the capital of Germany, was similarly divided. After a few years, the United States, United Kingdom and France combined their three sections into one to begin the process of reconstruction. The Soviet Union put up a fight. A lot of German citizens were migrating towards West Germany, the non-Soviet part of Germany. The Soviet Union began attempts to restrict this migration, but it wasn’t working very well. Then, came the wall.

When it went up and why 

Construction of the official Berlin Wall began on August 13th, 1961. Before then, the Soviet Union had been using laws and law enforcement to try and prevent people from migrating west, especially in BerlinBerlin was a heavy point of defection. The city was controlled by all four Allies, as opposed to other points along the divide. Construction efforts began in the middle of the night, with the military not only blocking the entrance to West Berlin but damaging the streets and byways to prevent passage of vehicles. The wall began as barbed fire and fencing, but by August 17, 1961, concrete blocks began to be placed into shape. The military guarded the wall during construction with orders to shoot anyone who tried to interfere. Officials were eager to prevent immigration to the west that they viewed as contributing to a massive brain drain.

What it represented about communism

The construction of the wall and the lengths taken to harm those who protested against it speak volumes, but the Berlin Wall represented even more about the communism brewing in East Germany. If you have to build a wall to keep people in, then you’re doing something wrong. Compare that to the United States, where many people want to build a wall to keep people out. If smart, educated young men and women are risking their lives to flee your governmental system, maybe you should reevaluate that system. The fact that the Allies, including the United States, had to organize air drops so that the East could eat means that communism is a failure. The construction of the Berlin Wall may have bought East Germany a little more time for the communist experiment, but it ultimately became the very symbol of communism’s failure. Even decades after it’s wall, we can still point to the Berlin Wall to show that communism was attempted, communism failed, and communism cannot be allowed to continue. 

Ronald Reagan’s Famous Speech

One of the most famous historical ties to the Berlin Wall is Ronald Reagan’s speech in which he said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” On June 12, 1987, US President Ronald Reagan was delivering a speech commemorating the 750th anniversary of Berlin as a city at the Brandenburg Gate. The Brandenburg Gate is a historic monument of peace and unity and was constructed in the late 18th century.

In the most famous section of the speech, Reagan said:

We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.

You can hear the entire speech HERE.

When it fell and why

In the late 1980s, East Germany realized they had a huge problem. Thousands of citizens were fleeing to Hungary and refusing to return to East Germany. Less than a month before the wall would fall, leadership of East Germany changed. Aware that people were leaving any way they could, East Germany altered their rules on migration. People took full advantage of that. On November 9th, 1989, it was announced that the gates along the wall would be open. People would finally be allowed to leave freely. It was unclear initially when these new rules would take effect, but people began to gather along the wall and demand the gates be opened. Late on the evening of November 9th, border agents were ordered to allow people to pass through the gates. It is estimated that millions of people passed through the gates that weekend. Soon, people began to attack the wall with hammers and picks and chip away at the wall. It didn’t fall overnight, but that was the beginning. Soon, bulldozers and heavy machinery joined in to dismantle the wall. Germany was finally and fully reunited in October of 1990.

If you want to see pieces of the Berlin Wall in the United States,  you can visit Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles,the Newseum in Washington, DC, the Reagan Ranch Center in Santa Barbara, California, the JFK Presidential Library in Boston, Massachusetts, or the James Baker Policy Institute in Houston, Texas, among others.

Aryssa D
FFL Cabinet Member