The President and Chancellor of a unified Germany and the Mayor of a unified Berlin today marked the 50th anniversary of the building the Berlin Wall. The 87 miles of the Antifaschistischer Schutzwall (or Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart in the official GDR terminology) split east and west Berlin for 28 years and became one of the most potent symbols of both the Cold War and, with its destruction, the fall of Communism.
The Berlin Wall as a dividing line has been consigned to history, and the few extant sections remain as tourist and remembrance sites. But there are plenty of other walls that continue to divide groups of people. In Northern Ireland, the peace lines, with their accompanying concrete walls, arrived in 1969 and continue to separate Protestant (or Loyalist) communities from their Catholic (or Nationalist/Republican) neighbours.
There are presently 53 officially maintained peace lines – 42 in Belfast, five in Londonderry, five in Portadown and one in Lurgan. Although many on both sides of the divide would like to see them come down, there has been no progress towards removal. Indeed, lines continue to be drawn and walls erected at new boundaries of sectarian tension.
Other dividing lines include:
the United Nations Buffer Zone in Cyprus (otherwise known as the Green Line), running 113 miles following a roughly east to west path and dividing north and south Cyprus;
the Moroccan Walls (or the Berm of Western Sahara) a series of barriers (mainly sandbanks) that separate the Moroccan-controlled areas from thosecontrolled by the Polisario;
the Korean Demilitarized Zone running 160 miles along the 38th parallel and providing a 2.5 mile wide buffer between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) and Republic of Korea (South Korea). Seoul, the capital of South Korea and home to nearly 25 million, is only 30 miles from the DMZ;
the Israeli West Bank barrier, a 470 mile wall dividing the Palestinian controlled West Bank from Israel. The different names it has been given reflect the conflict out of which it has emerged. In Israel it is called the separation fence, the security fence or the anti-terrorist fence. Palestinians refer to it as the racial segregation wall or the apartheid wall. Given even describing it as a fence or wall is politically loaded, many foreign journalists try to neutrally refer to it as a barrier.
Walls remain some of the best preserved relics of ancient civilisations. The Great Wall of China and the frontiers of the Roman Empire (including Hadrian’s Wall and the Limes (or boundaries) Germanicus and Saxonie) are perhaps the best known. Britain also has Offa’s Dyke (roughly following a portion of the modern English-Welsh border), the Antonine Wall (further north in Scotland than Hadrian’s Wall), Scots’ Dike (created in 1552 to mark the agreed border between England and Scotland in the Debatable Lands) and Wansdyke (medieval earthworks in the West Country).