Mourning, Merriment Mark 29th Anniversary of the Wall : Germany: With prayers for 80 martyrs to freedom, Berliners say good riddance to the infamous barrier.


It began with the rumble of trucks in the night, with soldiers rousting people from their beds and ordering them from their houses.

By sunrise, the first ugly miles of barbed wire were snaking through the heart of the city.

Aug. 13, 1961. Twenty-nine years ago today. The day they began building the Berlin Wall.

In those first panicky days, people would jump from high-rise windows on the new border, risking their lives to get to the other side, where separated families and lovers stood pleading with the tense soldiers who were erecting what would become modern history's most notorious barrier.

The barbed wire would be replaced by concrete, the high-rises would be boarded up, parks and back yards would be stripped and then planted with land mines and booby traps to form East Berlin's dreaded border "death strip."

Over the next 28 years, 80 people would die trying to cross die Mauer .

And on every Aug. 13, the Communist leadership would pay tribute to the Wall as a symbol of socialism "protecting" the East Germans from the perceived ills of the imperialist West.

Today, for the first time in 29 years, Aug. 13 has no Wall to serve as its marker.

Since the crumbling regime of Erich Honecker was forced to open East Germany's borders last Nov. 9, the Wall's demolition has been almost completed.

The center of Berlin is reconnected already, and only fragments of the Wall remain there. Longer stretches of the 29-mile barricade still hopscotch through parts of the city's outskirts, but they, too, are due to disappear by New Year's Day.

Yet strolling casually from one Berlin to the other, across the dusty ground where the Wall stood for so long, still has a certain eerie newness to it, like the impossible itch of an amputated limb.

"This year, Aug. 13 is being marked against the backdrop of Germany growing together," East German Prime Minister Lothar de Maiziere said in a statement Sunday.

"But in our joy at the fall of the Wall, we should not forget the lasting effects of that division," he said.

"Those 29 years of isolation inflicted wounds that will heal only slowly."

As politicians mark the anniversary with solemn wreath-laying ceremonies commemorating those who died at the Wall, Berliners seem intent on reveling in the ordinariness of this Aug. 13.

Tourists still chisel away at the Wall's skeletal remains, and vendors in the shadow of the Brandenburg Gate hawk chunks of it--or of anything closely resembling it--for less than $1 a piece.

People enjoying a sunny afternoon can stop for sausages and beer at stands on Pariser Platz, just east of the gate, then amble over to the other side for a chocolate-chip ice cream cone.

The stand is not far from the place where simple white crosses bear the names of those killed at the Wall, which, on this Aug. 13, no longer is.

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