A day to reflect on the meaning of freedom
Published in Insights, The New Zealand Initiative’s newsletter, 13 August 2021
Today is a special anniversary. On this day, 60 years ago, the Berlin Wall was built.
For younger generations, the Berlin Wall means little. It is a piece of remote history.
But it is worth knowing about and remembering. Not least for what it tells us about the deep human urge to be free – and the vigilance needed to preserve this freedom.
After World War 2, the allied forces divided Germany between themselves. The Americans, the British and the French jointly controlled West Germany; the Soviets controlled the East of the country.
Berlin was a special case. Though located in East Germany, it was divided into four parts as well. And just as in the whole of Germany, the Soviets took the Eastern part, while the Western allies held onto West Berlin.
From 1945 to 1961, two different states and two different cities developed. West Germany and West Berlin were free, democratic, and free-market. East Germany and East Berlin, meanwhile, were unfree, undemocratic, and socialist.
This real-life experiment of capitalism vs. socialism did not work out well for the latter.
On 17 June 1953, there was a first major uprising of East German workers triggered by working and living conditions. The Soviet Red Army and the East German military police crushed it, killing at least 55 protestors.
In the following years, millions of East Germans and East Berliners fled oppression. They had enough of life under socialism and yearned for freedom. By 1961, one in five East Germans had escaped to the West – about 3.8 million people in total.
To stop this exodus, the East German regime suddenly closed the border in the early hours of Sunday, 13 August 1961. That was the beginning of the Berlin Wall. It became the world’s most guarded and impenetrable border.
The Wall did not only separate freedom and oppression. It tore families apart. It split lovers. It divided friends.
It was an inhumane regime that prevented people from leaving their country—all for the execution of a phony ideology.
Whoever tried to cross the border risked their lives. Still, many did. East German border guards murdered hundreds of people who tried to escape from East to West. And when fugitives were caught alive, they ended up in jail for years.
On this day, we remember those victims.
And we take the opportunity to reflect on the fundamental value of liberty, which they held so dear.
Today, once again, we need to treasure our freedom to protect it.