Germany marks 60th anniversary of hated Berlin Wall
A large-scale photo from the time of the Berlin Wall construction is unveiled by facade climbers at the Hermannplatz on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the construction of the Berlin Wall. The historic photo a young border guard from East Germany helping a young child cross the Berlin Wall to reunite with his family on 14 August 1961. Kay Nietfeld/dpa
A large-scale photo from the time of the Berlin Wall construction is unveiled by facade climbers at the Hermannplatz on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the construction of the Berlin Wall. The historic photo a young border guard from East Germany helping a young child cross the Berlin Wall to reunite with his family on 14 August 1961. Kay Nietfeld/dpa

Germany marked the 60th anniversary of the building of the Berlin Wall, which formally split the nation into two rival political systems and led to the deaths of about 140 people trying to flee to the west from the east's communist regime.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Berlin's Mayor Michael Mueller attended a Berlin ceremony on Friday marking the anniversary.

"The wall was the unmistakable sign of an unjust state that was neither sovereign nor legitimate in the eyes of its own citizens," Steinmeier said the Chapel of Reconciliation, which was erected on the former border strip.

"August 13, 1961 was a fateful day for us Germans and for the world - and a day that destroyed dreams and hopes, that separated children from parents, grandchildren from grandparents, that intervened painfully and sorrowfully in the lives of countless individual people," Steinmeier said.

The building of the concrete barrier rapidly turned into a major symbol of the Cold War and Europe's post-Second World War divide.

East German soldiers began the moves to build what the communist authorities described as the Anti-Fascist Protection Barrier when they laid out more than 48 kilometres of barbed wire through central Berlin in the night to August 13, 1961.

Guard towers quickly sprung up in the east along the hated wall to oversee the so-called death strip between Germany's western and eastern parts, with East German citizens essentially forbidden from travelling to the west. About 5,000 succeeded in escaping.

The Berlin Wall's construction also came after a steady flow of East German citizens headed to the west during the first 12 years of the pro-Moscow state, which was founded in 1949.

The wall was finally swept away in a popular revolution in the east in November 1989, paving the way for Germany’s historic unification.

Steinmeier said the Berlin Wall serves as an enduring reminder to not take democracy for granted.

"Freedom and democracy are never given by nature, never achieved once and for all. Freedom and democracy must be fought for, but then protected, defended and preserved. Freedom and democracy need decisive commitment and passion."

A large-scale photo from the time of the Berlin Wall construction is unveiled by facade climbers at the Hermannplatz on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the construction of the Berlin Wall. The historic photo a young border guard from East Germany helping a young child cross the Berlin Wall to reunite with his family on 14 August 1961. Kay Nietfeld/dpa