Cours Stage - Territoire et mémoire (CE)

Exercice - The Berlin Wall


Read the following text and answer the questions using your own words.


Berlin Wall 50 years on: families divided, loved ones lost

Half a century after the infamous German wall was built, two ex-East Berliners look back at how it changed their lives forever

Ursula Bach, who fled to West Germany at 18. She was six months pregnant at the time the Berlin Wall went up in 1961, and was never to see the father of her child again.

When she heard the news that would cause her separation from the father of her child for ever, Ursula Bach was 18 years old and six months pregnant. She was tired. The baby was using up all her energy so she was lying in bed with the radio on, trying to get some rest at the chaotic refugee camp in West Germany where she had fled a few months earlier, leaving her fiance, Fried, back on the east side. Suddenly her brain tuned in to what she was hearing.

She still remembers the broadcast word for word: "It is Sunday the 13 August 1961. You are listening to the news on Bavarian Radio. Early this morning in Berlin the border police and members of the operational combat troops started to erect barbed wire and a security fence between the eastern and western sectors of the city. Sixty-nine of the 81 border crossings have already been closed. Residents of the GDR and East Berlin are now only allowed to cross with special permission. The S-Bahn is no longer running…"

"I couldn't believe it – I never thought they would hermetically seal the border," Bach said this week, recalling the day 50 years ago when the East German government decided to stem the flow of refugees fleeing the German Democratic Republic (GDR) by putting up what they euphemistically called the "anti-fascist protection measure". She never saw Fried again. The first her son, Andreas, ever heard from his father was after the Wall fell in 1989. It was too late then for them to build a relationship.

By the time Bach and her mother, brother and grandmother escaped from Saxony Anhalt on 21 May 1961, 2,000 East German citizens a day were arriving in West Berlin. The 3.5 million East Germans who had left since the founding of the GDR in 1949 made up about 20% of the entire East German population. Enough was enough, decided Walter Ulbricht, first secretary of the Socialist Unity party and GDR state council chairman. Despite claiming publicly that "no one is planning to build a wall", Ulbricht gave orders for engineers to do just that.

Bach's mother decided to leave when the East German government started cracking down on private enterprise in their mission to turn a market economy into a centrally planned one. She ran a leather shop, and was finding it increasingly difficult to stay afloat after the GDR authorities stopped her deliveries. "They wanted to give her a nothing sort of job in the trade department instead," said Bach.

Bach was in love. She didn't want to leave Fried, but a division opened up when their teaching course turned more political. "We were asked to spy on each other and were told not to go to church. That meant that our child would not be able to be baptised, which was very important to me," she said.

Fried was a committed communist; Bach was not. She decided to leave and didn't tell him she was going, though she long hoped he would follow her. The last she saw of him was when she was on the train heading out of town forever: "He waved and motioned for me to open the window, but the window wouldn't open. I didn't see him again."


Pidd, H. (2011). Berlin Wall 50 years on: families divided, loved ones lost. The Guardian.

Question 1

Who is Ursula Bach? Sum up her story in a few words.

Possible answer:

Ursula Bach is a woman who lived in Germany during the separation of Berlin in two sides: the East Side, which was communist, and the West Side, which was under a capitalist regime. When the Wall between the two sides was built in 1961, Ursula was six months pregnant and living on the West Side, whereas the father of her children was living on the East Side. This meant her son, Andreas, grew up without knowing his father.

Question 2

Where was Ursula when the building of the wall was announced?

Possible answer:

When the building of the Wall was announced, Ursula was on the West Side, in a refugee camp. She had moved there from the East side a few months earlier, following her mother and brother. She did not tell Fried, his boyfriend and father of her child, that she was moving, though she hoped he would follow her.

Question 3

How old was Andreas when he first saw his father? Did they manage to build a father-and-son relationship?

Possible answer:

Andreas first saw his father in 1989, after the Wall fell. This meant he must have been around 28 years old when he met him. Therefore, they were not able to build a healthy relationship between father and son.

Question 4

Why was the Wall built?

Possible answer:

The Wall was built to stop the massive emigration from the East Side to the West Side, which started in 1949 after the German Democratic Republic (GDR) was created. Even though Walter Ulbricht, first secretary of the Socialist Unity party and GDR state council chairman, stated publicly that this would not happen, he went to do it secretly until the construction of the wall was finally announced in 1961.

Question 5

Which was the euphemism used to name the Wall?

The GDR authorities referred to the Wall as “the anti-fascist protection measure”.

"Euphemism" is a noun which means:

A mild or indirect word or expression substituted for one considered to be too harsh or blunt when referring to something unpleasant or embarrassing.

‘the jargon has given us ‘downsizing’ as a euphemism for cuts’
It is pronounced /ˈjuːfəmɪz(ə)m/.
Definition taken from Oxford Dictionaries.

Question 6

What does the expression “her brain tuned in to what she was hearing” mean? (Paragraph 1)

It means she didn’t realize immediately what she was hearing. It took a few seconds for her brain to understand the meaning of it and to “tune in”.

Question 7

What were the differences between Ursula and Fried? Do you believe she regrets leaving him?

Possible answer:

Fried was a communist and Ursula was not. Therefore, when they were asked to spy on each other and not to attend church services anymore, Ursula finally decided to leave with her family to the West Side. Being able to baptise her child was very important to her. However, I believe we can sense from the text that she is not a hundred percent sure of what she did, since it meant separating Fried from his son.