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Germany remembers rise of the Berlin Wall 56 years on

Politicians gathered in Germany's capital, Berlin, to remember the initial laying of the foundations of the Berlin Wall. On this day 56 years ago, East Germany's communist regime started dividing Berlin in two.

Politicians laid wreaths at the main memorial site for the wall at Bernauer Strasse in downtown Berlin. A service commemorating the 56th anniversary was held earlier at the nearby Chapel of Reconciliation.

Among those attending the services was the German commissioner of cultural affairs, Monika Grütters. Grütters referred to the Berlin Wall as the "most recognized symbol of the ruthlessness of the SED regime," referring to the communist party of East Germany, the Socialist Unity Party. The minister also stressed that the wall separated not only the city but entire families, friends and neighborhoods.

Grütters added that it was important to commemorate such historic events. "This is an elementary part of our collective, national culture of remembrance," she said during the event. Because of this work, she added, "especially young people today get to understand the importance of freedom, democracy and rule of law without having to suffer the experience of dictatorship."

A divided city

The first stone for the Berlin Wall was laid on August 13, 1961. The wall stood for 28 years, symbolizing the division of the city, the nation and the schism between the capitalist West and communist East.

"In the early hours of the morning, construction workers started erecting a barbed-wire fence on the sector border between East and West Berlin," the German government said in an official statement. 

Over the next years, the barriers in Berlin were expanded to a 160-kilometer-long (100 miles), heavily-guarded border system.

The federal culture ministry allocates more than 1.26 million euros ($149 million) of their annual budget to the charity in charge of the upkeep of the Berlin Wall memorial, which features parts of the original wall as well as museums chronicling the history of the structure.

What remains of the Berlin Wall has become a cultural magnet for the German capital. Various exhibitions highlight what it was like to live under the long shadow of the infamous structure. A DW investigation meanwhile revealed that large sections of the wall had ended up at a garbage dump.

A painful history

At least 140 people are estimated to have been killed by East Germany's border officials whilst trying to cross over into the West. Twenty-four-year-old Günter Litfin was the first to die after being shot at the wall on 24 August, 1961.

The division of East and West Germany ended when the Berlin Wall came down as part of a peaceful revolution on November 9, 1989, less than 11 months later, the two German nations were reunified.

ss/jlw (dpa, KNA, epd)

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