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Germany marks Berlin Wall's 50th anniversary

Leaders attend commemoration services for "Wall of Shame" that stood for 20,315 days.

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Visitors look at wreaths left at a portion of the former Berlin Wall during a ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of its construction on August 13, 2011. (Sean Gallup/AFP/Getty Images)

Germany is marking the 50th anniversary of the building of the Berlin Wall, which divided the city for more than 28 years.

On August 13, 1961, Communist East Germany laid the first bricks in the staunchest symbol of the Iron Curtain, that sealed its border with the West.

Berlin observed a minute’s silence on Saturday at noon local time, to remember the people who died trying to leave the East, while flags in the country's parliament flew at half mast.

The BBC reports that commemorations began on Friday night, when the names of those who died in their attempts to cross to the West read out over a period of seven hours.

Figures of those killed while trying to flee stand at between 600 and 700, according to Radio France International. Other estimates put the figure at 1,200.

(Read more on GlobalPost: Without Tacheles, would Berlin lose its soul?)

Commemoration events are being attended by Chancellor Angela Merkel, who grew up in the East, German President Christian Wulff and Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit.

Speaking to Die Welt newspaper, Wulff said:

We have reason to be very pleased to live here and now. We can look with pride to East Germany's irrepressible desire for freedom and West Germans' solidarity with them.

Deutsche Welle said the wall, which Berliners called "Schandmauer", or "Wall of Shame", started off as a barbed-wire fence, before spreading for nearly 160 kilometers, where it cut a line through streets and neighborhoods.

The Berlin Wall fell on November 9, 1989, in a bloodless uprising in which East Germans were finally allowed to cross into the West.

Some sections of the wall that remain standing are being restored and listed for historical preservation.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/europe/germany/110813/germany-berlin-wall-50-anniversary