This week over 3 decades ago, an act took place in a city about 1,000 miles from Belfast which changed the course of European, and arguably world history. The Berlin wall was breached.
The original structure, created to divide East and West Berlin, was erected in 1961, over one night - the 12/13 August. It eventually extended for 50km across Berlin with another 120 km surrounding the Western sector. The original wall was built with barbed wire and cinder blocks but soon was replaced with concrete walls- many 5m high – topped with gun emplacements and barbed wire. It became an symbol of the Cold War. Over the decades of the wall’s existence, more than 140 people died attempting to cross to West Berlin and freedom.
31 years ago on 9 November, the day after over 5 million people gathered in East Berlin to protest against the partition of Germany, the wall crumbled under the axes, hammers and bare hands of Berlin’s citizens. They wanted to be together again.
I had the privilege of working in Eastern Europe just after the wall fell. During that time I visited many of the sites where walls had divided families- for the sake of political ideology. For many people the memories were too raw to share. But one story I was told still haunts me. It is of a Czech family who were arrested by the Stazi because they were Christians working with the YMCA . They were sent to 3 different detention camps – one for adult males one for adult females and the third for children. Why? Because they were different.
I fear we still have a problem coming to terms with difference, preferring to create new walls – physical and ideological – rather than take small steps towards building a new, shared society. Maybe, just maybe, that task of renewal is to be shared by you and me…..