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Berlin honours those who died crossing the Wall

As church bells toll, mayor condemns 'nostalgia' for symbol of 'dictatorship'

Berlin's mayor said yesterday that he was appalled some Germans were nostalgic for the Berlin Wall and supported a newly fashionable leftist view that there were legitimate reasons for building it in 1961. At a sombre ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the wall's construction, Mayor Klaus Wowereit, Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Christian Wulff paid tribute to the 136 people killed trying to get over the wall to West Berlin.

Mr Wowereit said the wall, toppled in 1989, should serve as a reminder of freedom and democracy around the world. Church bells pealed while trains and traffic came to a standstill at noon across the city for a moment of silence for the victims.

"We don't have any tolerance for those who nostalgically distort the history of the Berlin Wall and Germany's division," Mr Wowereit said at the ceremony in front of a small section of the wall recently rebuilt for posterity. "The wall was part of a dictatorship," he said. "And it's alarming that even today some people argue there were good reasons to build the wall. No! There's no legitimate reason, nor justification, for violating human rights and for killings."

The shock over the construction of the Berlin Wall in August 1961 is still palpable half a century later. "We couldn't believe it happened and we all felt numb when we first saw it," said Harry Dieter, 80, a retired West Berlin city official who was on honeymoon in Italy when the wall was first built.

"No one ever thought they would do that," he added. "I remember looking at the barbed wire and the cement and hoping it wouldn't take long for someone to order it taken down. Unfortunately, the order never came."

He and his wife, Doris, 72, have recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. "It's obviously better that Berlin is Berlin again and we're no longer divided," said Mrs Dieter. "But, unfortunately, there's still a bit of an invisible 'Wall' in some people's minds, which I fear will last a while."