To mark the fall of the Berlin Wall, IWM is sharing the story of the wall and those who lived and worked alongside it.
Here we feature five people's memories of the wall - share yours with us on Twitter using the hashtag #VoicesOfTheWall.
Eric Basil Burini and Frank Brannigan both served with the 1st Battalion The Durham Light Infantry in 1961, when construction on the wall began. They both shared their memories of their service in oral history recordings, now held in IWM’s collections.
Eric recalled: ‘I got an urgent message from the Commanding Officer - 'pack everything up and go straight down to the Tiergarten’ - because there was something going on, on the other side. And it turned out they were building the wall. It was a temporary affair to start with, barbed wire and that sort of thing.’
Frank remembered seeing people trying to cross the barrier that had now started to divide Berlin.
‘We seen ‘em trying to get through the barbed wire and getting shot. I mean, you see [them] asking you for help and you couldn’t help them….Families were split up overnight and you’ve got them trying to jump over…’
Brian Wehner was 7 years old when he arrived in Berlin with his parents Nadine and Arthur Ward Wehner. His father was a United States Air Force pilot and the family settled in the American sector in the early 1960s.
They were there in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis – although it was one of the hottest moments in the Cold War, Brian’s parents protected him from news of the tense standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union.
The presence of the Berlin Wall and the guards patrolling it was something Brian accepted but was something that was ‘very intimidating at the time for a little guy’.
‘I knew that it was a bad thing because people were dying trying to get to the West and it was formidable because you saw guards, you saw machine guns, your saw barbed wire, anti-tank devices….I knew it was not good.’
By the time the Berlin Wall fell, Brian had returned home to the United States – looking back at the fall of the wall, he says he is glad that ‘freedom prevailed’.
Thierry Noir was an artist who painted on the Berlin Wall in the 1980s. He was in Berlin when the wall fell in November 1989.
‘When the wall came down in November 9th, I was on the way back home in my car suddenly I saw a huge traffic mess so I left the car somewhere and I walked in the direction of Checkpoint Charlie and I saw it was a big confusion, with thousands of people on both sides of the wall, crying, and laughing at the same time and then suddenly the doors opened and then thousands of people from the east came for the first time to the west. It was one of the most emotional days of my life.’
To mark the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Thierry collaborated on a new artwork with street artist STIK. Find out more about how they worked together to create Wall which stood outside IWM London in 2019.
‘An important thing to get across was how much of a threat people believed the Communist Parties of Eastern Europe to be at the time. There was no sense in 1989 that in the next few years the Communist Party of Russia would have folded up completely, that we would be seeing the rise of Gorbachev and perestroika.’
Journalist and IWM Associate David Loyn was sent to East Germany when a BBC colleague fell ill – as a result, he ended up covering the protests that led up to the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989.
‘They were chanting ‘wir sind das Volk’ [we are the people], in response to the way in which the East German government had suborned public institutions and claimed authority over people, with the creation of organisations like the Volkspolizei. They were reclaiming that from the state. ‘You’re not the people, we’re the people’.’
The footage was taken back through Checkpoint Charlie and transmitted to London, with David filing his voiceover from a telephone box in East Berlin.
The fall of the wall would change Europe – but at the time, David recalls there was ‘a great deal of uncertainty about what it meant’.
‘Standing on the affluent streets of West Berlin, surrounded by people in furs essentially, meeting their counterparts in tie-dyed jeans. It was like two different species encountering each other for the first time. There was a great deal of curiosity, I mean they would have been shot for crossing over the border previously and now they were free to do so.’
‘There was a sense that this was a defining moment, something historical.’