Today in History: Building the Berlin Wall
An East European book exchange trip, part of a federal government grant to build our mathematics’ education collection, takes us Humboldt University, one of Berlin’s oldest universities. It is two years after the Wall’s collapse, and we are yet to visit libraries in Romania, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Austria — countries, like the former East Germany, where mathematics is historically strong. Our plan is to acquire model K-12 mathematics textbooks to improve the teaching of mathematics in our nation. We are keen to learn if, and how, recent changes in government are reflected in the school curriculum. Cognizant of the difficulty of change, we are careful in conversation and touched by the gracious generosity of our fellow librarians and academics.
Near the Brandenburg Gate, monumental symbol of a divided Germany during the Cold War, we spot remnants of the Wall, erected in August 1961 as an arc closing off access from West Berlin. It’s hard to decipher black graffiti on crumbling concrete, easier to trace the cigarette stubs and Coke cans. We visualize the turmoil and peace; stately presence of Kennedy and Reagan (Clinton and Obama to come); process of reunification, Fall of the Iron Curtain. Atop the gate, originally named “Friendenstor” (Peace Gate), the Quadriga, a chariot drawn by four horses, is gleaming on this crystal blue day, and it is once again facing East.
August 12, 1961 marks the date when the Communist government of the former East Germany (German Democratic Republic) began building the Berlin Wall to divide East and West Berlin. A symbol of the Cold War, the concrete wall was deemed to protect East German citizens from the evils of Western culture and capitalism. “Checkpoint Charlie” was the name given by the Allies to the best-name crossing point. Million of East Germans fled to the West and many died trying to escape.
On November 9, 1989 the East German communists opened the wall, allowing citizens to pass freely — signifying the end of the Cold War, fall of the communist regime, and major democratic changes in other countries in Eastern Europe.
The following stories are drawn from Proquest Historical Newspapers, a resource which serves to inspire research, as well as classroom learning and teaching.
- Bonnie Angelo Newsday, W. B. (1962, Aug 13). Berlin Wall: Unhappy Birthday. Newsday (1940-1988)
- High Drama at Berlin Wall. (1964, Sep 14). Boston Globe (1960-1985)
- Special to The New York Times. (1968, Aug 12). The Berlin Wall 7 Years Later: A Grim and Effective Barrier. New York Times (1923-Current File)
- Gary Geipel. (1986, Aug 13). East German History Textbooks and the Berlin Wall. The Christian Science Monitor (1908-Current File)
- Harry Trimborn Times, S. W. (1989, Nov 10). Berlin Wall: Great Divide of East, West. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File)
- Aug. 13, 1961: Berlin Wall Rose out of East’s Fear. (1989, Nov 11). The Sun (1837-1991)
- Studemann, F. (1991, Aug 13). Salesmen and Tourists Bag the Cold War Front Line. The Guardian (1959-2003)
- Western Leaders Knew of Plan to Build Berlin Wall. (2001, Aug 11). The Irish Times (1921-Current File)
- Scally, D. (2007, Jan 06). The Two Berlins and the Hated Structure. The Irish Times (1921-Current File)
- Staunton, D. (2014, Nov 06). How the Wall Was Built. The Irish Times (1921-Current File)
Tip: Check the Rothman Lantern Slide Collection, a K-12 teaching resource, for interesting historical images of Berlin that were used in the classroom. See Educat for holdings on Germany, including math textbooks.
Also peruse the Berlin Wall Memorial, which includes information about construction, border fortification, fatalities, and more, and the Berlin Wall Online, which includes sample textbooks, photographs, art, and more.
Need to keep current, look to the past, teach a topic? The Everett Cafe features daily postings of news from around the world, and also promotes awareness of historical events from an educational context.
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