They (as in the East) called it a great symbol of communist defiance to western "imperialism."
I called it a wall to keep people from leaving a pretty bad place. I should know. I went there and saw for myself.
I'm actually really glad I was able to visit the Berlin Wall when it was in full use and even spend a few days in East Berlin. It's hard to believe that was all more than 20 years ago. It seems like yesterday I walked through the famed Checkpoint Charlie and exchanged my very valuable West German Marks for some very less valuable East German Marks (the "official" exchange rate was 1 to 1 at the border, but the true value was somewhere around 10 East German Marks to 1 West German Mark). This artifical value placed on the East German money created a black market senario and we quickly found East Germans who were glad to get a hold of our West German Marks and US dollars and give us something closer to the true market value.
That night in East Berlin, four of my friends and I found ourselves at the finest restaurant in the city, treated like royalty or rock stars for a measly $40 a piece. It was crazy. We ate and drank as much as we wanted untile we ran out of time and had to run back to Checkpoint Charlie in the rain to make it back by the VERY strict midnight curfew. We made it back to the West at exactly 11:58 pm.
The contrast between West Berlin and East Berlin in those days (this was 1987) was striking. West Berlin was like New York City. Huge and vibrant, a thorn in the side of the communist leaders of the East, where several million people lived in relative luxury, just on the other side of the wall from the East. East Berlin was a different story. There were still bullet holes in the buildings from the war. It was like time had stood still. I remember thinking how Germans could live so differently, separated only by a wall and a government. Like I said, the official reason for the wall was to keep the West out. But it didn't take long to see that the wall was keeping the East in. Many people lost their lives trying to get out. Many people did get out. They kept trying up until the end.
When the wall finally fell, I wasn't really surprised. It was obvious to me that it was just a matter of time. You can't keep people locked up forever. They always find a way to escape, especially when they are locked up for no real good reason. Eventually the East got tired of shooting at their own and protecting a way of life that not many seemed to want in the first place.
I haven't been back to Germany since those days and I've often wondered if I'd even recognize the place today. It's a different world. No more walls keeping people apart.
I just can't believe it's been 20 years.