Monday, November 09, 2009

The Berlin Wall Falls-20th Anniversary

For much of my life, the Berlin Wall was part of the world I grew up in.

It was created on August 13, 1961, eight months before I was born. It was strengthened and improved over several decades and symbolized not only the dividing line between West and East Berlin, but between communism and democracy.

It cost 136 East Germans their lives trying to cross it to freedom in West Berlin and billions for the East German government to maintain it and a similar barrier between the two Germanys.

It even became part of my own lexicon. If I had a 'no way in Hades' intention of doing something, I'd say, "That'll happen when the Berlin Wall comes down."

On November 9, 1989 it did.

The pump had been primed by demonstrations in Leipzig, East Germany that summer. They were allowed to happen despite a massive police and military presence. Remember the East Germans were the first to congratulate the Chinese government after the violent suppression of the June 4 Tienanmen Square demonstrations in Beijing.

Those demonstrations were fueled by Hungary and Czechoslovakia's August decision to open their border with Austria and allowing East German citizens on vacation there to leave their countries for the West.

At a routine late afternoon news conference, East German Politburo member Gunter Schabowski casually declared that East Germans would be free to travel to the West immediately.

The decision had already been made, but Schabowski got the date it was going to start crossed up. He tried to clarify his comments and said the new rules would take hold at midnight, but events moved faster as the word spread.

Thousands of East Germans surged toward the Wall checkpoints, including future German chancellor Angela Merkel, overwhelming the border guards. With no orders from the top forthcoming, they opened the gates and kicked off the biggest celebration in history.

The Wall fell, and months later East Germany ceased to exist as well.

Hard to believe twenty years have passed since then.

1 comment:

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By Sakki