Fifty years ago this week, residents of an already-divided Berlin woke up to find East German soldiers ripping up streets and stringing a barbed-wire barrier through their city. Within days, a 96-mile-long fence surrounded West Berlin, cutting it off it not only from the eastern part of the city, but from the rest of East Germany, as well. Over the coming months and years, it was hardened into the concrete structure known around the world as the Berlin Wall.
East German officials – in a phrase sure to earn an honored place in the George Orwell Hall of Fame – called the barrier the Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart; they said its purpose was to protect the people of East Germany from resurgent Nazi forces and rapacious capitalists in the west. But everyone knew the real purpose of the Wall: to cut off the flood of East Germans who had been defecting from their Worker’s Paradise.
I recently took a tour of the place in East Berlin where the secret security police – the Stasi – took people who failed to appreciate how wonderful life was in the German Democratic Republic. My tour guide? Vera Lengsfeld, a German politician, author … and a former guest of the facility.
As we observe half a century since the Wall went up, let’s take a look inside at how one government waged a war of psychological terror on its own citizens …