Ever tried to erase ink from the printed page? Pretty hard to do. That image remains, no matter how hard you try to scrub it away.
This is the 20th anniversary of this world-changing event.
Over the next couple weeks, I’ll be writing about this anniversary, the event that it marks, and the impact the fall of the Wall has had on Germany, Europe, the United States, and the world. I hope you will come along with me as we travel to Berlin and a couple other cities in the former East Germany.
Along the way, you’ll see some images of what things look like today. Such as the Wall itself, or what remains of it. Like this image with your blogger in front of it.
Following WWII, the eastern portion of Germany was ceded to Russia for its contributions to winning the war for the Allies. As the Soviet empire grew into the USSR, East Germany became a country within that communist coalition. The former Germany became two Germanies: East and West, communist and democratic.
Ironically, communist East Germany was known as the German Democratic Republic, or GDR, and was officially so founded and named in 1949 by the Soviet leadership which would hold sway over the country until the wall came down and eastern communism fell apart under its own weight.
Increasingly, the East German government found it hard to keep its people from fleeing to the West. To stem the emigration, the government decided on a plan to make it nearly impossible for East Germans to leave without permission. The most visible part of that plan — and a very effective one — was the Berlin Wall, whose construction began in the August, 1961.
It was the final barrier to freedom to be put in place after the previous plan of securing all other parts of the East-West German border than Berlin itself, had failed to prevent emigration to the West. The entire border was now officially closed, and East German soldiers at the border were ordered to guard it with their lives.
When the Wall was through, some 97 miles of the forbidding “monster” as it came to be known by man, would divide the two Berlins, virtually encircling West Berlin along the border created by post-WWII negotiations. The Wall included guard towers atop the concrete structure which circumscribed a swath of no-mans land often called “the death strip,” containing anti-vehicle defenses. A “baby wall” was built on the eastern edge of this death strip.
Defection came to a standstill among East Germans wanting to flee. In the months and years ahead, many brave souls would try, and many would fail and lose their lives in the process.
When the border was closed, a large number of Berlin families were split off from each other and many would not see their loved ones again. West Berlin became an virtual island of freedom in a hostile land. West Berliners demonstrated daily against the construction of the Wall. West German Chancellor Willy Brandt criticized the U.S. for not trying to stop construction of the Wall.
For its part, the East German government officially declared the Wall as the “Anti-fascist protective rampart.” GDR leaders said defection to the West was an act of political and moral backwardness and depravity.
The Wall and the extensions of its closed border that separated all of East from West Germany, was often referred to in world affairs as the “iron curtain.” That curtain would remain closed until communism began to crumble in eastern Europe in the mid- to late 1980s. In East Germany, peaceful demonstrations had been occurring regularly in 1989, and all of it led up to the opening of the wall on the night of Nov. 9, 1989. That opening, however, caught everyone — West Germans alike — by surprise when it happened.
Here is how I described it in my coverage of the 10th anniversary in 1999:
“It was more of an accident of history. A mistaken or misinterpreted televised remark on Nov. 9, 1989, of an East German Politburo member Guenter Schabowski that East Germans were free to travel ‘without meeting special provisions,’ and that the new rule would go into effect immediately.
“Still Harald Jaeger, then a lieutenant colonel in the East German Army, had received no orders to let East Germans pass to the West that night. A growing crowd of vocal Germans appeared at his post at Berlin’s Bornholmerstrasse Crossing. Confusion reigned. Jaeger called his superiors for orders. There were none. Jaeger took a chance that Schabowski’s statement was official. He opened the gate and it never closed again.”
In the days to come, we’ll take a look at what the fall of the Berlin Wall has meant to Germany and also hear from some Americans who have intertesting stories to tell about their time in Berlin. Then we will attend the anniversary festivities in Pariser Platz, beneath the Brandenburg Gate on the night of Nov. 9.
I look forward to your joining me on this journey.