Rewind

Germany Divided: 25 Years After the Fall of the Wall

A look at a divided Germany from 1958, almost two years before the wall went up. CBC reporters wanted to see for themselves how the Communist ideology of the East and capitalism of the West intersected.

It’s been 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. A look at a divided Germany as it was in 1958, almost two years before the wall went up. CBC reporters wanted to see for themselves how the Communist ideology of the East and capitalism of the West intersected. Along the way they visited refugee camps of East Germans who had fled to the west, travelled on the subway right through East Berlin and visited a beer garden in Munich to talk to ordinary Germans. 

East and West German citizens celebrate as they climb the Berlin wall at the Brandenburg gate after the opening of the East German border on Nov. 9, 1989. (Fabrizio Bensch)

It’s been 25 years since the Berlin Wall came tumbling down. Twenty five years since people danced joyously on top of a wall that was a symbol of repression and deprivation. Twenty five years since the dream of a united Germany was in grasp.  A lot has changed since then. A powerful and united Germany is an economic powerhouse. Its chancellor, Angela Merkel, who was born in and grew up in East Germany, represents its new reality. And yet, a divide remains. What was formerly East Germany continues to lag behind West Germany and many Germans still don’t feel like they belong to one nation. As Merkel said in 2009, “the process of German unity has not ended yet.” 

On Rewind, we look not at the fall of the wall 25 years ago, but we go back further to a divided Germany almost two years before it was built. It was the fall of 1958 and CBC Radio decided to send two reporters to Germany to discover what life was like for its people. 

Dying Peter Fechter is carried away by East German border guards who shot him down when he tried to flee to the west in this Aug. 17, 1962 file photo. Fechter was lying 50 minutes in no-man's land before he was taken to a hospital where he died shortly after arrival. ((AP Photo/Files))

To give it a bit of context. In 1945, at the end of the Second World War, Germany experienced an almost total collapse. Germans lived at near starvation levels. In 1949, West Germany was established as a federal democratic republic while East Germany became a Communist state under the influence of the Soviet Union. West Germany flourished and became an attractive destination for East Germans. In 1961, in an effort to stop the bleed, East Germany, with the cooperation of the Soviet Union, decided to build a wall right in the middle of Berlin. East Germans could no longer travel to the west. Families were torn apart and the divide between the two Germanys grew ever wider. At the time the documentary you’re about to hear aired, the wall was not yet built. People were streaming out of East Germany and its government was trying to cope. 

In this Aug. 15, 1961 file photo, East German workers assemble a wall of concrete blocks in the French sector of East Berlin. Berlin will begin remembrance celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the construction of the Berlin Wall on Tuesday, June 14, 2011. ( (AP Photo/Eddie Worth, File))

By the time the wall was finished in 1961, three and a half million East Germans had left for the west. This was approximately 20% of the entire East German population. 

The reporters on that documentary were Anne Francis and Tony Thomas, both well known CBC journalists at the time. 

Willy Brandt- mayor of West Berlin at the time of this documentary- went on to become Chancellor of West Germany in 1969.  His most important legacy is the Ostpolitik, a policy aimed at improving relations with East Germany, Poland, and the Soviet Union. Although this policy caused considerable controversy in West Germany, Brandt won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1971.

The Berlin wall came down in November 1989 and two Germanys were reunited in October 1990. 

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