Berlin Wall, Dates and The Fall

Berlin Wall, Dates and The Fall

On August 13, 1961, the Communist government of the German Democratic Republic (GDR, or East Germany) began to build a barbed wire and concrete “Antifascistischer Schutzwall,” or “antifascist bulwark,” between East and West Berlin. The official purpose of this Berlin Wall was to keep so-called Western “fascists” from entering East Germany and undermining the socialist state, but it primarily served the objective of stemming mass defections from East to West. The Berlin Wall stood until November 9, 1989, when the head of the East German Communist Party announced that citizens of the GDR could cross the border whenever they pleased. That night, ecstatic crowds swarmed the wall. Some crossed freely into West Berlin, while others brought hammers and picks and began to chip away at the wall itself. To this day, the Berlin Wall remains one of the most powerful and enduring symbols of the Cold War.

The Berlin Wall: The Partitioning of Berlin

As World War II came to an end in 1945, a pair of Allied peace conferences at Yalta and Potsdam determined the fate of Germany’s territories. They split the defeated nation into four “allied occupation zones”: The eastern part of the country went to the Soviet Union, while the western part went to the United States, Great Britain and (eventually) France.



















All the Ways People Escaped Across the Berlin Wall

Even though Berlin was located entirely within the Soviet part of the country (it sat about 100 miles from the border between the eastern and western occupation zones), the Yalta and Potsdam agreements split the city into similar sectors. The Soviets took the eastern half, while the other Allies took the western. This four-way occupation of Berlin began in June 1945.

The Berlin Wall: Blockade and Crisis

The existence of West Berlin, a conspicuously capitalist city deep within communist East Germany, “stuck like a bone in the Soviet throat,” as Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev put it. The Russians began maneuvering to drive the United States, Britain and France out of the city for good. In 1948, a Soviet blockade of West Berlin aimed to starve the western Allies out of the city. Instead of retreating, however, the United States and its allies supplied their sectors of the city from the air. This effort, known as the Berlin Airlift, lasted for more than a year and delivered more than 2.3 million tons of food, fuel and other goods to West Berlin. The Soviets called off the blockade in 1949.

After a decade of relative calm, tensions flared again in 1958. For the next three years, the Soviets–emboldened by the successful launch of the Sputnik satellite the year before during the “Space Race” and embarrassed by the seemingly endless flow of refugees from east to west (nearly 3 million since the end of the blockade, many of them young skilled workers such as doctors, teachers and engineers)–blustered and made threats, while the Allies resisted. Summits, conferences and other negotiations came and went without resolution. Meanwhile, the flood of refugees continued. In June 1961, some 19,000 people left the GDR through Berlin. The following month, 30,000 fled. In the first 11 days of August, 16,000 East Germans crossed the border into West Berlin, and on August 12 some 2,400 followed—the largest number of defectors ever to leave East Germany in a single day.

The Berlin Wall: Building the Wall

That night, Premier Khrushchev gave the East German government permission to stop the flow of emigrants by closing its border for good. In just two weeks, the East German army, police force and volunteer construction workers had completed a makeshift barbed wire and concrete block wall–the Berlin Wall–that divided one side of the city from the other.

Before the wall was built, Berliners on both sides of the city could move around fairly freely: They crossed the East-West border to work, to shop, to go to the theater and the movies. Trains and subway lines carried passengers back and forth. After the wall was built, it became impossible to get from East to West Berlin except through one of three checkpoints: at Helmstedt (“Checkpoint Alpha” in American military parlance), at Dreilinden (“Checkpoint Bravo”) and in the center of Berlin at Friedrichstrasse (“Checkpoint Charlie”). (Eventually, the GDR built 12 checkpoints along the wall.) At each of the checkpoints, East German soldiers screened diplomats and other officials before they were allowed to enter or leave. Except under special circumstances, travelers from East and West Berlin were rarely allowed across the border.

The Berlin Wall: 1961-1989

The construction of the Berlin Wall did stop the flood of refugees from East to West, and it did defuse the crisis over Berlin. (Though he was not happy about it, President John F. Kennedy conceded that “a wall is a hell of a lot better than a war.”) Almost two years after the Berlin Wall was erected, John F. Kennedy delivered one of the most famous addresses of his presidency to a crowd of more than 120,000 gathered outside West Berlin’s city hall, just steps from the Brandenburg Gate. Kennedy’s speech has been largely remembered for one particular phrase. “I am a Berliner.”

In all, at least 171 people were killed trying to get over, under or around the Berlin Wall. Escape from East Germany was not impossible, however: From 1961 until the wall came down in 1989, more than 5,000 East Germans (including some 600 border guards) managed to cross the border by jumping out of windows adjacent to the wall, climbing over the barbed wire, flying in hot air balloons, crawling through the sewers and driving through unfortified parts of the wall at high speeds.

The Berlin Wall: The Fall of the Wall

On November 9, 1989, as the Cold War began to thaw across Eastern Europe, the spokesman for East Berlin’s Communist Party announced a change in his city’s relations with the West. Starting at midnight that day, he said, citizens of the GDR were free to cross the country’s borders. East and West Berliners flocked to the wall, drinking beer and champagne and chanting “Tor auf!” (“Open the gate!”). At midnight, they flooded through the checkpoints.

More than 2 million people from East Berlin visited West Berlin that weekend to participate in a celebration that was, one journalist wrote, “the greatest street party in the history of the world.” People used hammers and picks to knock away chunks of the wall–they became known as “mauerspechte,” or “wall woodpeckers”—while cranes and bulldozers pulled down section after section. Soon the wall was gone and Berlin was united for the first time since 1945. “Only today,” one Berliner spray-painted on a piece of the wall, “is the war really over.”

The reunification of East and West Germany was made official on October 3, 1990, almost one year after the fall of the Berlin Wall.


The Fall of the Wall

When Hungary disabled its physical border defenses with Austria on August 19, 1989, it initiated a chain of events that would eventually precipitate the fall of the Berlin Wall. In September 1989, more than 13,000 East German tourists escaped through Hungary to Austria. The Hungarians prevented many more East Germans from crossing the border and returned them to Budapest. Those East Germans then flooded the West German embassy and refused to return to East Germany. The East German government responded to this by disallowing any further travel to Hungary, but allowed those already there to return to East Germany.

Soon, a similar pattern began to emerge out of Czechoslovakia. This time, however, the East German authorities allowed people to leave, provided that they did so by train through East Germany. This was followed by mass demonstrations within East Germany itself. Initially, protesters were mostly people wanting to leave to the West, chanting “Wir wollen raus!” (“We want out!”). Then protesters began to chant “Wir bleiben hier!” (“We are staying here!”). This was the start of what East Germans call the Peaceful Revolution of late 1989. Protest demonstrations grew considerably by early November, and the movement neared its height on November 4, when half a million people gathered to demand political change at the Alexanderplatz demonstration, East Berlin’s large public square and transportation hub.

The longtime leader of East Germany, Erich Honecker, resigned on October 18, 1989, and was replaced by Egon Krenz the same day. Honecker predicted in January of that year that the Wall would stand for 50 or 100 more years if the conditions that caused its construction did not change. The wave of refugees leaving East Germany for the West kept increasing. By early November, refugees were finding their way to Hungary via Czechoslovakia or the West German Embassy in Prague. This was tolerated by the new Krenz government due to long-standing agreements with the communist Czechoslovak government allowing free travel across their common border. However, this movement grew so large it caused difficulties for both countries. The Politburo led by Krenz thus decided on November 9 to allow refugees to exit directly via crossing points between East and West Germany, including between East and West Berlin. Later the same day, the ministerial administration modified the proposal to include private, round-trip travel. The new regulations were to take effect the next day.

Günter Schabowski, the party boss in East Berlin and the spokesman for the SED Politburo, had the task of announcing the new regulations but had not been involved in the discussions about the new regulations and was been fully updated. Shortly before a press conference on November 9, he was handed a note announcing the changes but given no further instructions on how to handle the information. These regulations had only been completed a few hours earlier and were to take effect the following day to allow time to inform the border guards. But this starting time delay was not communicated to Schabowski. At the end of the press conference, Schabowski read out loud the note he had been given. One of the reporters, ANSA’s Riccardo Ehrman, asked when the regulations would take effect. After a few seconds’ hesitation, Schabowski stated based on assumption that it would be immediate. After further questions from journalists, he confirmed that the regulations included border crossings through the Wall into West Berlin, which he had not mentioned until then.

Excerpts from Schabowski’s press conference were the lead story on West Germany’s two main news programs that night, meaning that the news was also broadcast to nearly all of East Germany. East Germans began gathering at the Wall at the six checkpoints between East and West Berlin, demanding that border guards immediately open the gates. The surprised and overwhelmed guards made many hectic telephone calls to their superiors about the problem. At first, they were ordered to find the more aggressive people gathered at the gates and stamp their passports with a special stamp that barred them from returning to East Germany—in effect, revoking their citizenship. However, this still left thousands demanding to be let through.

It soon became clear that no one among the East German authorities would take personal responsibility for issuing orders to use lethal force, so the vastly outnumbered soldiers had no way to hold back the huge crowd of East German citizens. Finally, at 10:45 pm, Harald Jäger, the commander of the Bornholmer Straße border crossing, yielded, allowing the guards to open the checkpoints and people to pass through with little to no identity checking. As the Ossis (“Easterners”) swarmed through, they were greeted by Wessis (“Westerners”) waiting with flowers and champagne amid wild rejoicing. Soon afterward, a crowd of West Berliners jumped on top of the Wall and were joined by East German youngsters. They danced together to celebrate their new freedom.

The Fall of the Berlin Wall: This photo shows part of the Wall at Brandenburg Gate, with Germans standing on top of the Wall days before it was torn down.


Fall of the Berlin Wall

At the end of World War Two Germany had been partitioned into four sectors controlled by America, Britain, France and Russia. Berlin had been similarly partitioned.

In 1949 the American, British and French sectors had been combined to form West Germany a capitalist country, while the Russian sector had become East Germany a communist country.

In 1952 the border between the two states was closed but the border between West and East Berlin remained open.

In 1961 the East German authorities decided to close the border between East and West Berlin to prevent the movement of people from to West Germany. In the early hours of August 13th 1961 barbed wire fences were erected along the border and roads along the border were destroyed making them impassable to vehicles.

The effect of the building of the wall, quickly and without notice, meant that many East Berliners were cut off from their families, were unable to continue working in the Western sector and were isolated from the West.

In 1962 a second parallel fence was erected 100 metres behind the first fence creating a no-man’s land in between. Armed guards with instructions to shoot anyone trying to reach West Berlin patrolled the area. In 1965 work began on a concrete wall and in 1975 work began on a final wall made of reinforced concrete sections, further reinforced with mesh fencing, topped with barbed wire. Around 300 watchtowers were built along the wall where armed guards were stationed. There were 8 border crossing points of which Checkpoint Charlie was the most famous. More than 200 people were killed trying to escape across the wall.

In 1985 Mikhail Gorbachev became head of the Soviet Union. He adopted a more moderate policy and was determined to reform the country and boost the failing economy. His programs of reform were popularly called glasnost (liberalisation, opening up) and perestroika (restructuring).

On 23rd August 1989, Hungary opened its borders to Austria. East Germans were allowed to freely visit Hungary which was part of the communist block and many escaped to Austria via Hungary. In September there were demonstrations in East Germany against confinement to the East. The protests continued through October and into November. The numbers of people leaving East Germany increased and many went through Communist Czechoslovakia.

On November 9th it was announced in a radio broadcast that the border between East and West Germany would be opened for “private trips abroad”. Thousands of people heard the broadcast and congregated at the checkpoints demanding to be let through. The border guards had been given no instructions regarding the opening of the border but faced with such huge numbers of people decided to let them pass. In the following days people began using chisels and pick axes to physically destroy the wall.
This article is part of our larger collection of resources on the Cold War. For a comprehensive outline of the origins, key events, and conclusion of the Cold War, click here.


The Berlin Wall

Following the end of World War II, the major Allied countries agreed to split Germany into four occupation zones, each of which fell under different leadership: the east by the Soviets and the west by the Americans, the British, and the French. Although the city of Berlin lay completely within the Soviet zone, it too was split into occupation zones, again with the east controlled by the Soviets and the west by the Americans, British, and French.

However, it soon became clear to the Soviets that it would be hard to keep their zones under control so close to a western presence. In 1948, the Soviets blockaded West Berlin, effectively blocking all railways, roads and canals. The Soviets only agreed to end the blockade if West Berlin got rid of the new Deutsche Mark that the West had begun using. Their attempt to rid West Berlin of this new currency, as well as their desire to crush western presence in Berlin, was unsuccessful. The United States, France, and Great Britain launched the Berlin Airlift, in which the western Allies delivered food and supplies to the blockaded citizens of West Berlin. The airlift lasted for about 11 months in May of 1949, the two sides reached settlements regarding their respective territories.

Following the Berlin Airlift, the city saw relative peace until around 1958. After launching Sputnik, the first artificial satellite, the Soviets had a heightened sense of confidence in their capabilities and wanted to limit the number of citizens departing their zone for the western zone. Since the end of the blockade, around 3 million people had left eastern zones in Germany for western zones. The main reasons people wanted to leave East Berlin centered on the Sovietization of the region: unlike the Americanized, freer society of West Berlin, East Berlin had oppressive laws and policies, including strictly enforced curfews and media censorship.

Because of the mass exodus, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev decided that the time had come to erect a wall between the eastern and western portions of Berlin. Thus, in 1961, preliminary construction of the Berlin Wall began. Although the reason cited for the building of the wall stressed the importance of “keep[ing] Western ‘fascists’ from entering East Germany and undermining the social state,” the Soviets were actually trying to keep their citizens in. The wall stood as a virtually impossible structure to breach. One could only get across through certain checkpoints, such as Checkpoint Charlie.

As time passed, a newly improved concrete wall replaced the initial wall. Referred to as the “Death Strip,” the eastern side of the wall was lined with machine guns, bright lights, search dogs, and soldiers. From the building of the wall in 1961 to when it fell in 1989, thousands of people managed to escape East Berlin. Many on the eastern side resorted to desperate measures, such as digging underground tunnels and hiding in suitcases and trunks of vehicles in order to escape East Berlin. Around 200 people died while attempting to get over the Berlin Wall. An example of the global outcry against the brutality of the wall can be seen in President Ronald Reagan’s iconic speech in 1987 calling for the wall to be torn down.

There are many theories regarding the events that led to the wall coming down. Many give credit to President Reagan, saying that his staunch anti-communist attitude and rhetoric led to the fall of the wall, and later, to the fall of the Soviet Union. Others say that Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev played a crucial role with his introduction of perestroika and glasnost.

The end of the wall finally became a reality in 1989. On November 9, an East Berlin official, who actually did not have the authority to do so, said that their citizens could from then on go freely to the west. Because this mistake was made on television, he was unable to take back his comments. Following this announcement, over 2 million people gathered at the wall, tearing it down with the materials nearest them as they celebrated their newfound freedom.

A moment in history that united Berlin for the first time since the end of World War II, the fall of the Berlin Wall was significant in inducing the fall of the Soviet Union. Less than a year later, in October of 1990, the reunification of Germany was made official. After this reunification took place, the process of actually re-combining these two countries proved to be a very pricy ordeal, costing the German government around 2 trillion Euros (in today’s currency) to put into effect. The high price of the reunification resulted from former East Germany’s dire economic state. Because West Germany was in a much more stable financial situation, its government spent trillions of Euros (in today’s currency) to help with the reunification process.

Today, Germany has been reunited for about 28 years, and is one of the most influential countries in Europe. In Berlin, the wall has not been forgotten: throughout the city where the wall used to be now stands a historical marker, outlining the overall length of the wall and never letting anyone forget the daunting barrier that used to separate the city.


Conclusion

As discussed, the construction of the wall was purely on the ideological diversity on the economic, social, and political grounds by the allied powers of post-war Germany. The immediate effects of the construction, such as unemployment for the East Germany Residents who worked in the west, Isolation of West Berlin, and family split up, contributed much to the fight for freedom of travel and movement. However, there were crossings during the time, that is, elderly pensioners, visits by relatives for important family matters, journey to the west for professional issues, the restrictions involved tedious applications, and approval was not guaranteed to make residents rise freedom. The conflict of interests between the residents and the allied powers led to political and social turmoil. They were viewed as neo-colonization and violation of Germans’ freedom by external, which forces led to the fall of the Berlin wall.


‘Let there be light’: The fall of the Berlin Wall and how fear dies

The Berlin Wall, which as of Monday has been down for longer than it was up — 10,316 days — was a brilliant expression of the power of oppression.

It was vast, 96 miles long. It was frightening, laced with mines, dotted with soldiers trained to shoot without asking questions. It was also far more effective than any solely physical barrier because it produced what East Germans called “the wall in the head,” the omnipresent belief that there was no escape, no hope.

So it struck Germans on both sides as nothing short of miraculous when the massive construction of concrete, bricks, barbed wire and electrified fence collapsed in what seemed like an instant.

I was The Washington Post’s Berlin bureau chief in 1989 when the barrier that had divided communist East Germany from capitalist West Germany since 1961 finally fell. The history books say the wall opened on one strange night in November of that year, but that’s not quite right. It was really a process that took several months, a process that consisted of the physical deconstruction of the wall, countless changes in people’s daily routines, and a mental shift — which was perhaps the biggest hurdle of all.

Early one December morning, I was the first motorist queued to pass through Checkpoint Charlie from East to West. While reporting a story in East Berlin, I had overstayed my visa (reporters were required to get out of the communist East by midnight or face arrest). Lacking the papers I would have needed to book a hotel room legally, I’d kept on reporting through the night, and now, as dawn approached, I could once again cross the border back into the West.

As the 6 a.m. reopening of the city’s internal border approached, the East German guard who stood between me and a return to the West painstakingly set up his desk and went through his morning ritual of opening the gates. Finally, the Vopo — the Volkspolizei, or people’s police, guards who never smiled and always managed to unnerve — flipped on the fluorescent bulb that hung over his traffic lane.

“And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ ” he said, breaking into a big smile.

I sat there in stunned silence. The fearsome Vopo had cracked a joke.

He laughed at his own wit. He looked to me for a reaction.

The internal calculations that become second nature in a police state took me a few seconds to run. Was this a trick? Do I laugh and get accused of disrespecting the people’s police? Do I stare straight ahead and risk incurring the wrath of the all-powerful Volkspolizei? Eventually, with a slight, nervous grin, I looked him in the eye, something I’d once been warned against doing by a much sterner East German officer who’d caught me driving on a highway that was off-limits to westerners.

The border guard repeated his joke. This time, I allowed myself to smile along with him. He didn’t even bother to check inside my trunk. Breaking a zillion rules, he just waved me through. The wall, the one he’d spent his working life defending, the one outside his booth and the one inside our heads, was gone.

In those weeks of startling change, every day brought new experiences. A few border crossings later, I was returning to the West after spending a day in an East German school where teachers were suddenly on their own, trying to figure out whether they still had to teach the once strictly required classes on communist ideology. I had tucked away deep in my luggage a piece of contraband, an East German high school history textbook, 800 pages detailing every action of each Communist Party Congress in the country’s 40-year history. No party materials could cross the border — every time I’d tried before, the guards had confiscated everything.

This time, the guard found my book and chuckled as he flipped through it. “You can keep that,” he said. “No one needs those anymore.”

In those first weeks after the wall was semiofficially opened, the East German regime tried to maintain its separation and independence from the West, but the people knew what their government would take seven months to figure out: The game was up. In the final days before all border controls between the two Germanys were lifted, a few Vopo guards still insisted on checking travel documents. When one threatened to turn back a foreign visitor, the tourist loudly told a friend, “Don’t worry, he’s history in 10 days.”


Fall of the Berlin Wall: Timeline

A history of the events that caused the Berlin Wall to fall on November 9, 1989.

Aug. 13 The border between East and West Berlin is closed and barbed wire and fencing is erected concrete appears two days later. The wall would eventually grow to be a 96-mile barrier encircling West Berlin.

Aug. 15 Conrad Schumann, a 19-year-old East German border guard, was the first person photographed escaping to West Germany. About 10,000 people attempted escapes, and 5,000 succeeded.

Aug. 24 Gunter Litfin, a 24-year-old tailor's apprentice, was the first person shot dead trying to escape.

Aug. 17 Peter Fechter, 18, was shot while trying to escape. He became an icon of the brutality of the wall because he fell on the border strip on the east side in view of West German authorities, but neither they nor bystanders were allowed to assist him. He died where he fell.

June 26 In a speech on the West German side of the Berlin Wall, President John F. Kennedy says: "There are many people in the world who really don't understand, or say they don't, what is the great issue between the free world and the Communist world. Let them come to Berlin." He also utters the phrase "Ich bin ein Berliner" (I am a Berliner).

Dec. 17 After much negotiation, an agreement is reached allowing West Berliners to visit relatives in East Berlin on a limited basis.

East German authorities order stricter border controls – with additional wall segments and barbed wire to foil escapes – after negotiations for freer crossings break down.

Sept. 3 The Four-Power Agreement on Berlin was signed. The accord led to eased travel restrictions from West Germany to West Berlin as well as an opening of trade and diplomatic ties between East Germany and West Germany

A second wall is built behind the original wall deeper inside East German territory, including touch-sensitive fencing with weapons mounted to fire at anyone touching the fence.

Oct. 7 Three teenagers are killed when East German police clash with protesters demanding "Down with the wall!"

Aug. 31 An escalation of Eastern European reform movements, begun in the 1970s, culminates in an agreement between the Communist Polish government and striking Gdansk shipyard workers led by electrician Lech Walesa. The workers ended their strike and the government guaranteed the workers' right to form independent trade unions as well as to strike. This leads to the rise of the anticommunist Solidarity movement.

June 12 Speaking in West Berlin at the wall, US President Ronald Reagan says : "General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall."

February 6 Chris Gueffroy is the last person shot and killed trying to escape. Meanwhile, the Polish government initiates talks with the opposition to defuse social unrest.

April 5 The Roundtable Agreement is signed in Poland, legalizing independent trade unions and calling the first partially democratic elections in June.

May 2 Dismantling of the Iron Curtain – the boundary between Warsaw Pact and NATO countries – begins as Hungary disables the electric alarm system and cuts through barbed wire on its border with Austria.

Aug. 19 The 'Pan-European Picnic' – a peace demonstration at the Hungarian town of Sopron on the Austrian border – turns into an exodus when Hungarian border guards hold their fire as 600 East German citizens flee to the West .

Aug. 24 Tadeusz Mazowiecki is appointed Polish prime minister, becoming the first noncommunist head of state in Eastern Europe in more than 40 years.

Sept. 10 Hungary reopens its border with East Germany, allowing 13,000 East Germans passage to escape through Austria.

Oct. 18 East German leader Erich Honecker is forced to resign.

Nov. 4 One million people rally in East Berlin during weeks of mounting demonstrations.

Nov. 9 The Berlin Wall falls.

Nov. 17 The 'Velvet Revolution' in Czechoslovakia erupts in reaction to a police crackdown on peaceful student protests in Prague. Days of mass demonstrations ensue.

Nov. 24 Communists in Prague step down.

Dec. 3 Soviet spokesman Gennady Gerasimov, speaking after a press conference between George H.W. Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev, who were concluding a shipboard summit at Malta, declared: "From Yalta to Malta, the cold war ended at 12.45 p.m. today."

Dec. 22 Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu is overthrown. He and his wife, Elena, are executed three days later after a summary trial.


Contents

Post-war Germany

After the end of World War II in Europe, what remained of pre-war Germany west of the Oder-Neisse line was divided into four occupation zones (as per the Potsdam Agreement), each one controlled by one of the four occupying Allied powers: the United States, the United Kingdom, France and the Soviet Union. The capital of Berlin, as the seat of the Allied Control Council, was similarly subdivided into four sectors despite the city's location, which was fully within the Soviet zone. [13]

Within two years, political divisions increased between the Soviets and the other occupying powers. These included the Soviets' refusal to agree to reconstruction plans making post-war Germany self-sufficient, and to a detailed accounting of industrial plants, goods and infrastructure—some of which had already been removed by the Soviets. [14] France, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the Benelux countries later met to combine the non-Soviet zones of Germany into one zone for reconstruction, and to approve the extension of the Marshall Plan. [5]

Eastern Bloc and the Berlin airlift

Following the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II, the Soviet Union engineered the installation of friendly Communist governments in most of the countries occupied by Soviet military forces at the end of the War, including Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, and the GDR, which together with Albania formed the Comecon in 1949 and later a military alliance, the Warsaw Pact. This bloc of nations was set up by the Soviets in opposition to NATO in the capitalist West in what became the Cold War.

Since the end of the War, the Soviets together with like-minded East Germans created a new Soviet-style regime in the Soviet Zone and later the GDR, on a centrally planned socialist economic model with nationalized means of production, and with repressive police state institutions, under party dictatorship of the SED similar to the party dictatorship of the Soviet Communist Party in the USSR. [15]

At the same time, a parallel regime was established under the strict control of the Western powers in the zones of post-war Germany occupied by them, culminating in the foundation of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1949, [16] which initially claimed to be the sole legitimate power in all of Germany, East and West. The material standard of living in the Western zones of Berlin began to improve quickly, and residents of the Soviet Zone soon began leaving for the West in large numbers, fleeing hunger, poverty and repression in the Soviet Zone for a better life in the West. Soon residents of other parts of the Soviet Zone began to escape to the West through Berlin, and this migration, called in Germany "Republikflucht", deprived the Soviet Zone not only of working forces desperately needed for post-war reconstruction but disproportionately highly educated people, which came to be known as the "Brain Drain". [ citation needed ]

In 1948, in response to moves by the Western powers to establish a separate, federal system of government in the Western zones, and to extend the Marshall Plan to Germany, the Soviets instituted the Berlin Blockade, preventing people, food, materials and supplies from arriving in West Berlin by land routes through the Soviet zone. [17] The United States, the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and several other countries began a massive "airlift", supplying West Berlin with food and other supplies. [18] The Soviets mounted a public relations campaign against the Western policy change. Communists attempted to disrupt the elections of 1948, preceding large losses therein, [19] while 300,000 Berliners demonstrated for the international airlift to continue. [20] In May 1949, Stalin lifted the blockade, permitting the resumption of Western shipments to Berlin. [21] [22]

The German Democratic Republic (the "GDR" East Germany) was declared on 7 October 1949. On that day, the USSR ended the Soviet military government which had governed the Soviet Occupation Zone (Sowetische Besatzungszone) since the end of the War and handed over legal power [23] [ page needed ] to the Provisorische Volkskammer under the new Constitution of the GDR which came into force that day. However, until 1955, the Soviets maintained considerable legal control over the GDR state, including the regional governments, through the Sowetische Kontrollkommission and maintained a presence in various East German administrative, military, and secret police structures. [24] [25] Even after legal sovereignty of the GDR was restored in 1955, the Soviet Union continued to maintain considerable influence over administration and lawmaking in the GDR through the Soviet embassy and through the implicit threat of force which could be exercised through the continuing large Soviet military presence in the GDR, which was used to bloodily repress protests in East Germany in June 1953. [26]

East Germany differed from West Germany (Federal Republic of Germany), which developed into a Western capitalist country with a social market economy and a democratic parliamentary government. Continual economic growth starting in the 1950s fueled a 20-year "economic miracle" ("Wirtschaftswunder"). As West Germany's economy grew, and its standard of living steadily improved, many East Germans wanted to move to West Germany. [27]

Emigration westward in the early 1950s

After the Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe at the end of World War II, the majority of those living in the newly acquired areas of the Eastern Bloc aspired to independence and wanted the Soviets to leave. [28] Taking advantage of the zonal border between occupied zones in Germany, the number of GDR citizens moving to West Germany totaled 187,000 in 1950 165,000 in 1951 182,000 in 1952 and 331,000 in 1953. [29] [30] One reason for the sharp 1953 increase was fear of potential further Sovietization, given the increasingly paranoid actions of Joseph Stalin in late 1952 and early 1953. [31] 226,000 had fled in just the first six months of 1953. [32]

By the early 1950s, the Soviet approach to controlling national movement, restricting emigration, was emulated by most of the rest of the Eastern Bloc, including East Germany. [33] The restrictions presented a quandary for some Eastern Bloc states, which had been more economically advanced and open than the Soviet Union, such that crossing borders seemed more natural—especially where no prior border existed between East and West Germany. [34]

Up until 1952, the demarcation lines between East Germany and the western occupied zones could be easily crossed in most places. [35] On 1 April 1952, East German leaders met the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in Moscow during the discussions, Stalin's foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov proposed that the East Germans should "introduce a system of passes for visits of West Berlin residents to the territory of East Berlin [so as to stop] free movement of Western agents" in the GDR. Stalin agreed, calling the situation "intolerable". He advised the East Germans to build up their border defenses, telling them that "The demarcation line between East and West Germany should be considered a border—and not just any border, but a dangerous one . The Germans will guard the line of defence with their lives." [36]

Consequently, the inner German border between the two German states was closed, and a barbed-wire fence erected. The border between the Western and Eastern sectors of Berlin, however, remained open, although traffic between the Soviet and the Western sectors was somewhat restricted. This resulted in Berlin becoming a magnet for East Germans desperate to escape life in the GDR, and also a flashpoint for tension between the United States and the Soviet Union. [5]

In 1955, the Soviets gave East Germany authority over civilian movement in Berlin, passing control to a regime not recognized in the West. [37] Initially, East Germany granted "visits" to allow its residents access to West Germany. However, following the defection of large numbers of East Germans (known as Republikflucht) under this regime, the new East German state legally restricted virtually all travel to the West in 1956. [35] Soviet East German ambassador Mikhail Pervukhin observed that "the presence in Berlin of an open and essentially uncontrolled border between the socialist and capitalist worlds unwittingly prompts the population to make a comparison between both parts of the city, which unfortunately does not always turn out in favour of Democratic [East] Berlin." [38]

Berlin emigration loophole

With the closing of the inner German border officially in 1952, [38] the border in Berlin remained considerably more accessible because it was administered by all four occupying powers. [35] Accordingly, Berlin became the main route by which East Germans left for the West. [39] On 11 December 1957, East Germany introduced a new passport law that reduced the overall number of refugees leaving Eastern Germany. [5]

It had the unintended result of drastically increasing the percentage of those leaving through West Berlin from 60% to well over 90% by the end of 1958. [38] Those caught trying to leave East Berlin were subjected to heavy penalties, but with no physical barrier and subway train access still available to West Berlin, such measures were ineffective. [40] The Berlin sector border was essentially a "loophole" through which Eastern Bloc citizens could still escape. [38] The 3.5 million East Germans who had left by 1961 totalled approximately 20% of the entire East German population. [40]

An important reason that passage between East Germany and West Berlin was not stopped earlier was that doing so would cut off much of the railway traffic in East Germany. Construction of a new railway bypassing West Berlin, the Berlin outer ring, commenced in 1951. Following the completion of the railway in 1961, closing the border became a more practical proposition. (See History of rail transport in Germany.) [ citation needed ]

Brain drain

The emigrants tended to be young and well-educated, leading to the "brain drain" feared by officials in East Germany. [28] Yuri Andropov, then the CPSU Director on Relations with Communist and Workers' Parties of Socialist Countries, wrote an urgent letter on 28 August 1958, to the Central Committee about the significant 50% increase in the number of East German intelligentsia among the refugees. [41] Andropov reported that, while the East German leadership stated that they were leaving for economic reasons, testimony from refugees indicated that the reasons were more political than material. [41] He stated "the flight of the intelligentsia has reached a particularly critical phase." [41]

By 1960, the combination of World War II and the massive emigration westward left East Germany with only 61% of its population of working age, compared to 70.5% before the war. The loss was disproportionately heavy among professionals: engineers, technicians, physicians, teachers, lawyers and skilled workers. The direct cost of manpower losses to East Germany (and corresponding gain to the West) has been estimated at $7 billion to $9 billion, with East German party leader Walter Ulbricht later claiming that West Germany owed him $17 billion in compensation, including reparations as well as manpower losses. [40] In addition, the drain of East Germany's young population potentially cost it over 22.5 billion marks in lost educational investment. [42] The brain drain of professionals had become so damaging to the political credibility and economic viability of East Germany that the re-securing of the German communist frontier was imperative. [43]

The exodus of emigrants from East Germany presented two minor potential benefits: an easy opportunity to smuggle East German secret agents to West Germany, and a reduction in the number of citizens hostile to the communist regime. Neither of these advantages, however, proved particularly useful. [44]

On 15 June 1961, First Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party and GDR State Council chairman Walter Ulbricht stated in an international press conference, "Niemand hat die Absicht, eine Mauer zu errichten!" (No one has the intention of erecting a wall!). It was the first time the colloquial term Mauer (wall) had been used in this context. [45]

The transcript of a telephone call between Nikita Khrushchev and Ulbricht, on 1 August in the same year, suggests that the initiative for the construction of the Wall came from Khrushchev. [46] [47] However, other sources suggest that Khrushchev had initially been wary about building a wall, fearing negative Western reaction. Nevertheless, Ulbricht had pushed for a border closure for quite some time, arguing that East Germany's very existence was at stake. [48] [ page needed ]

Khrushchev had become emboldened upon seeing US president John F. Kennedy's youth and inexperience, which he considered a weakness. In the 1961 Vienna summit, Kennedy made the error of admitting that the US wouldn't actively oppose the building of a barrier. [49] A feeling of miscalculation and failure immediately afterwards was admitted by Kennedy in a candid interview with New York Times columnist James "Scotty" Reston. [50] On Saturday, 12 August 1961, the leaders of the GDR attended a garden party at a government guesthouse in Döllnsee, in a wooded area to the north of East Berlin. There, Ulbricht signed the order to close the border and erect a wall. [5]

At midnight, the police and units of the East German army began to close the border and, by Sunday morning, 13 August, the border with West Berlin was closed. East German troops and workers had begun to tear up streets running alongside the border to make them impassable to most vehicles and to install barbed wire entanglements and fences along the 156 kilometres (97 mi) around the three western sectors, and the 43 kilometres (27 mi) that divided West and East Berlin. [51] The date of 13 August became commonly referred to as Barbed Wire Sunday in Germany. [5]

The barrier was built inside East Berlin or East German territory to ensure that it did not encroach on West Berlin at any point. Generally, the Wall was only slightly inside East Berlin, but in a few places it was some distance from the legal border, most notably at Potsdamer Bahnhof [52] and the Lenné Triangle [53] that is now much of the Potsdamer Platz development.

Later, the initial barrier was built up into the Wall proper, the first concrete elements and large blocks being put in place on 17 August. During the construction of the Wall, National People's Army (NVA) and Combat Groups of the Working Class (KdA) soldiers stood in front of it with orders to shoot anyone who attempted to defect. Additionally, chain fences, walls, minefields and other obstacles were installed along the length of East Germany's western border with West Germany proper. A huge no man's land was cleared to provide a clear line of fire at fleeing refugees. [54]

Immediate effects

With the closing of the east–west sector boundary in Berlin, the vast majority of East Germans could no longer travel or emigrate to West Germany. Berlin soon went from being the easiest place to make an unauthorized crossing between East and West Germany to being the most difficult. [55] Many families were split, while East Berliners employed in the West were cut off from their jobs. West Berlin became an isolated exclave in a hostile land. West Berliners demonstrated against the Wall, led by their Mayor (Oberbürgermeister) Willy Brandt, who criticized the United States for failing to respond and went so far as to suggest to Washington what to do next. Kennedy was furious. [56] Allied intelligence agencies had hypothesized about a wall to stop the flood of refugees, but the main candidate for its location was around the perimeter of the city. In 1961, Secretary of State Dean Rusk proclaimed, "The Wall certainly ought not to be a permanent feature of the European landscape. I see no reason why the Soviet Union should think it is—it is to their advantage in any way to leave there that monument to communist failure." [54]

United States and UK sources had expected the Soviet sector to be sealed off from West Berlin but were surprised by how long the East Germans took for such a move. They considered the Wall as an end to concerns about a GDR/Soviet retaking or capture of the whole of Berlin the Wall would presumably have been an unnecessary project if such plans were afloat. Thus, they concluded that the possibility of a Soviet military conflict over Berlin had decreased. [57]

The East German government claimed that the Wall was an "anti-fascist protective rampart" (German: "antifaschistischer Schutzwall") intended to dissuade aggression from the West. [58] Another official justification was the activities of Western agents in Eastern Europe. [59] The Eastern German government also claimed that West Berliners were buying out state-subsidized goods in East Berlin. East Germans and others greeted such statements with skepticism, as most of the time, the border was only closed for citizens of East Germany traveling to the West, but not for residents of West Berlin travelling to the East. [60] The construction of the Wall had caused considerable hardship to families divided by it. Most people believed that the Wall was mainly a means of preventing the citizens of East Germany from entering or fleeing to West Berlin. [61]

Secondary response

The National Security Agency was the only American intelligence agency that was aware that East Germany was to take action to deal with the brain drain problem. On 9 August 1961, the NSA intercepted an advance warning information of the Socialist Unity Party's plan to close the intra-Berlin border between East and West Berlin completely for foot traffic. The interagency intelligence Berlin Watch Committee assessed that this intercept "might be the first step in a plan to close the border." [62] [63] This warning did not reach John F. Kennedy until noon on 13 August 1961, while he was vacationing in his yacht off the Kennedy Compound in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. While Kennedy was angry that he had no advance warning, he was relieved that the East Germans and the Soviets had only divided Berlin without taking any action against West Berlin's access to the West. However, he denounced the Berlin Wall, whose erection worsened the relations between the United States and the Soviet Union. [62] [63]

In response to the erection of the Berlin Wall, a retired general, Lucius D. Clay, was appointed by Kennedy as his special advisor with ambassadorial rank. Clay had been the Military Governor of the US Zone of Occupation in Germany during the period of the Berlin Blockade and had ordered the first measures in what became the Berlin Airlift. He was immensely popular with the residents of West Berlin, and his appointment was an unambiguous sign that Kennedy would not compromise on the status of West Berlin. As a symbolic gesture, Kennedy sent Clay and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson to West Berlin. They landed at Tempelhof Airport on the afternoon of Saturday, 19 August 1961 and were greeted enthusiastically by the local population. [64] [5]

They arrived in a city defended by three Allied brigades—one each from the UK (Berlin Infantry Brigade), the US (Berlin Brigade), and France (Forces Françaises à Berlin). On 16 August, Kennedy had given the order for them to be reinforced. Early on 19 August, the 1st Battle Group, 18th Infantry Regiment (commanded by Colonel Glover S. Johns Jr.) was alerted. [65]

On Sunday morning, U.S. troops marched from West Germany through East Germany, bound for West Berlin. Lead elements—arranged in a column of 491 vehicles and trailers carrying 1,500 men, divided into five march units—left the Helmstedt-Marienborn checkpoint at 06:34. At Marienborn, the Soviet checkpoint next to Helmstedt on the West German-East German border, US personnel were counted by guards. The column was 160 kilometres (99 mi) long, and covered 177 kilometres (110 mi) from Marienborn to Berlin in full battle gear. East German police watched from beside trees next to the autobahn all the way along. [5]

The front of the convoy arrived at the outskirts of Berlin just before noon, to be met by Clay and Johnson, before parading through the streets of Berlin in front of a large crowd. At 04:00 on 21 August, Lyndon Johnson left West Berlin in the hands of General Frederick O. Hartel and his brigade of 4,224 officers and men. "For the next three and a half years, American battalions would rotate into West Berlin, by autobahn, at three-month intervals to demonstrate Allied rights to the city". [66]

The creation of the Wall had important implications for both German states. By stemming the exodus of people from East Germany, the East German government was able to reassert its control over the country: in spite of discontent with the Wall, economic problems caused by dual currency and the black market were largely eliminated. The economy in the GDR began to grow. However, the Wall proved a public relations disaster for the communist bloc as a whole. Western powers portrayed it as a symbol of communist tyranny, particularly after East German border guards shot and killed would-be defectors. Such fatalities were later treated as acts of murder by the reunified Germany. [67]

Layout and modifications

[68] [69]
Length (km) Description
156.4 0 Bordering around West Berlin within 3.4m and 4.2m in height
111.9 0 Concrete walls
44.5 0 Metal mesh fence (along death strip)
112.7 0 Cross attachment in Potsdam
43.7 0 Cross attachment along the border of East and West Berlin
0.5 0 Remains of house fronts, land mansion bricks [ clarification needed ]
58.95 Wall-shaped front wall with a height of 3.40 m
68.42 Expanded metal fence with a height of 2.90 m as a "front barrier"
161 0 0 Light strip
113.85 Limit signal and barrier fence (GSSZ)
127.5 0 Contact and signal fence
124.3 0 Border patrol
Actual number Descriptions
186 Observation towers (302 in West-Berlin) [ clarification needed ]
31 Implementing agencies
259 Dog runs
20 Bunkers
  • Border
  • Outer strip
  • Concrete wall with rounded top
  • Anti vehicle ditch
  • "Death strip" sand bank
  • Guard road
  • Lighting
  • Observation towers
  • Spikes or tank traps
  • Electrified fence with alarms
  • Inner wall
  • Restricted zone

The Berlin Wall was more than 140 kilometres (87 mi) long. In June 1962, a second, parallel fence, also known as a “hinterland” wall (inner wall), [70] was built some 100 metres (110 yd) farther into East German territory. The houses contained between the wall and fences were razed and the inhabitants relocated, thus establishing what later became known as the death strip. The death strip was covered with raked sand or gravel, rendering footprints easy to notice, easing the detection of trespassers and also enabling officers to see which guards had neglected their task [71] it offered no cover and, most importantly, it offered clear fields of fire for the Wall guards.

Through the years, the Berlin Wall evolved through four versions: [72]

  • Wire fence and concrete block wall (1961)
  • Improved wire fence (1962–1965)
  • Improved concrete wall (1965–1975)
  • Grenzmauer 75 (Border Wall 75) (1975–1989)

The "fourth-generation Wall", known officially as "Stützwandelement UL 12.11" (retaining wall element UL 12.11), was the final and most sophisticated version of the Wall. Begun in 1975 [73] and completed about 1980, [74] it was constructed from 45,000 separate sections of reinforced concrete, each 3.6 metres (12 ft) high and 1.2 metres (3.9 ft) wide, and cost DDM16,155,000 or about US$3,638,000. [75] The concrete provisions added to this version of the Wall were done to prevent escapees from driving their cars through the barricades. [76] At strategic points, the Wall was constructed to a somewhat weaker standard, so that East German and Soviet armored vehicles could easily break through in the event of war. [76]

The top of the wall was lined with a smooth pipe, intended to make it more difficult to scale. The Wall was reinforced by mesh fencing, signal fencing, anti-vehicle trenches, barbed wire, dogs on long lines, "beds of nails" (also known as "Stalin's Carpet") under balconies hanging over the "death strip", over 116 watchtowers, [77] and 20 bunkers with hundreds of guards. This version of the Wall is the one most commonly seen in photographs, and surviving fragments of the Wall in Berlin and elsewhere around the world are generally pieces of the fourth-generation Wall. The layout came to resemble the inner German border in most technical aspects, except that the Berlin Wall had no landmines nor spring-guns. [71] Maintenance was performed on the outside of the wall by personnel who accessed the area outside it either via ladders or via hidden doors within the wall. [78] These doors could not be opened by a single person, needing two separate keys in two separate keyholes to unlock. [79]

As was the case with the inner German border, an unfortified strip of Eastern territory was left outside the wall. [80] This outer strip was used by workers to paint over graffiti and perform other maintenance on the outside of the wall [80] Unlike the inner German border, however, the outer strip was usually no more than four meters wide, and, in photos from the era, the exact location of the actual border in many places appears not even to have been marked. Also in contrast with the inner German border, little interest was shown by East German law enforcement in keeping outsiders off the outer strip sidewalks of West Berlin streets even ran inside it. [80]

Despite the East German government's general policy of benign neglect, vandals were known to have been pursued in the outer strip, and even arrested. In 1986, defector and political activist Wolfram Hasch and four other defectors were standing inside the outer strip defacing the wall when East German personnel emerged from one of the hidden doors to apprehend them. All but Hasch escaped back into the western sector. Hasch himself was arrested, dragged through the door into the death strip, and later convicted of illegally crossing the de jure border outside the wall. [81] Graffiti artist Thierry Noir has reported having often been pursued there by East German soldiers. [82] While some graffiti artists were chased off the outer strip, others, such as Keith Haring, were seemingly tolerated. [83]

Surrounding municipalities

Besides the sector-sector boundary within Berlin itself, the Wall also separated West Berlin from the present-day state of Brandenburg. The following present-day municipalities, listed in counter-clockwise direction, share a border with the former West Berlin:

There were nine border crossings between East and West Berlin. These allowed visits by West Berliners, other West Germans, Western foreigners and Allied personnel into East Berlin, as well as visits by GDR citizens and citizens of other socialist countries into West Berlin, provided that they held the necessary permits. These crossings were restricted according to which nationality was allowed to use it (East Germans, West Germans, West Berliners, other countries). The best known was the vehicle and pedestrian checkpoint at the corner of Friedrichstraße and Zimmerstraße (Checkpoint Charlie), which was restricted to Allied personnel and foreigners. [84]

Several other border crossings existed between West Berlin and surrounding East Germany. These could be used for transit between West Germany and West Berlin, for visits by West Berliners into East Germany, for transit into countries neighbouring East Germany (Poland, Czechoslovakia, Denmark), and for visits by East Germans into West Berlin carrying a permit. After the 1972 agreements, new crossings were opened to allow West Berlin waste to be transported into East German dumps, as well as some crossings for access to West Berlin's exclaves (see Steinstücken).

Four autobahns connected West Berlin to West Germany, including Berlin-Helmstedt autobahn, which entered East German territory between the towns of Helmstedt and Marienborn (Checkpoint Alpha), and which entered West Berlin at Dreilinden (Checkpoint Bravo for the Allied forces) in southwestern Berlin. Access to West Berlin was also possible by railway (four routes) and by boat for commercial shipping via canals and rivers. [5] [72] [85]

Non-German Westerners could cross the border at Friedrichstraße station in East Berlin and at Checkpoint Charlie. When the Wall was erected, Berlin's complex public transit networks, the S-Bahn and U-Bahn, were divided with it. [74] Some lines were cut in half many stations were shut down. Three western lines traveled through brief sections of East Berlin territory, passing through eastern stations (called Geisterbahnhöfe, or ghost stations) without stopping. Both the eastern and western networks converged at Friedrichstraße, which became a major crossing point for those (mostly Westerners) with permission to cross. [85] [86]

Crossing

West Germans and citizens of other Western countries could generally visit East Germany, often after applying for a visa [87] at an East German embassy several weeks in advance. Visas for day trips restricted to East Berlin were issued without previous application in a simplified procedure at the border crossing. However, East German authorities could refuse entry permits without stating a reason. In the 1980s, visitors from the western part of the city who wanted to visit the eastern part had to exchange at least DM 25 into East German currency at the poor exchange rate of 1:1. It was forbidden to export East German currency from the East, but money not spent could be left at the border for possible future visits. Tourists crossing from the west had to also pay for a visa, which cost DM 5 West Berliners did not have to pay this fee. [86]

West Berliners initially could not visit East Berlin or East Germany at all—all crossing points were closed to them between 26 August 1961 and 17 December 1963. In 1963, negotiations between East and West resulted in a limited possibility for visits during the Christmas season that year (Passierscheinregelung). Similar, very limited arrangements were made in 1964, 1965 and 1966. [86]

In 1971, with the Four Power Agreement on Berlin, agreements were reached that allowed West Berliners to apply for visas to enter East Berlin and East Germany regularly, comparable to the regulations already in force for West Germans. However, East German authorities could still refuse entry permits. [86]

East Berliners and East Germans could not, at first, travel to West Berlin or West Germany at all. This regulation remained in force essentially until the fall of the Wall, but over the years several exceptions to these rules were introduced, the most significant being:

  • Elderly pensioners could travel to the West starting in 1964 [88]
  • Visits of relatives for important family matters
  • People who had to travel to the West for professional reasons (for example, artists, truck drivers, musicians, writers, etc.) [citation needed]

For each of these exceptions, GDR citizens had to apply for individual approval, which was never guaranteed. In addition, even if travel was approved, GDR travellers could exchange only a very small amount of East German Marks into Deutsche Marks (DM), thus limiting the financial resources available for them to travel to the West. This led to the West German practice of granting a small amount of DM annually (Begrüßungsgeld, or welcome money) to GDR citizens visiting West Germany and West Berlin to help alleviate this situation. [86]

Citizens of other East European countries were in general subject to the same prohibition of visiting Western countries as East Germans, though the applicable exception (if any) varied from country to country. [86]

Allied military personnel and civilian officials of the Allied forces could enter and exit East Berlin without submitting to East German passport controls, purchasing a visa or being required to exchange money. Likewise, Soviet military patrols could enter and exit West Berlin. This was a requirement of the post-war Four Powers Agreements. A particular area of concern for the Western Allies involved official dealings with East German authorities when crossing the border, since Allied policy did not recognize the authority of the GDR to regulate Allied military traffic to and from West Berlin, as well as the Allied presence within Greater Berlin, including entry into, exit from, and presence within East Berlin. [86]

The Allies held that only the Soviet Union, and not the GDR, had the authority to regulate Allied personnel in such cases. For this reason, elaborate procedures were established to prevent inadvertent recognition of East German authority when engaged in travel through the GDR and when in East Berlin. Special rules applied to travel by Western Allied military personnel assigned to the military liaison missions accredited to the commander of Soviet forces in East Germany, located in Potsdam. [86]

Allied personnel were restricted by policy when travelling by land to the following routes:

  • Road: the Helmstedt–Berlin autobahn (A2) (checkpoints Alpha and Bravo respectively). Soviet military personnel manned these checkpoints and processed Allied personnel for travel between the two points. Military personnel were required to be in uniform when traveling in this manner.
  • Rail: Western Allied military personnel and civilian officials of the Allied forces were forbidden to use commercial train service between West Germany and West Berlin, because of GDR passport and customs controls when using them. Instead, the Allied forces operated a series of official (duty) trains that traveled between their respective duty stations in West Germany and West Berlin. When transiting the GDR, the trains would follow the route between Helmstedt and Griebnitzsee, just outside West Berlin. In addition to persons traveling on official business, authorized personnel could also use the duty trains for personal travel on a space-available basis. The trains traveled only at night, and as with transit by car, Soviet military personnel handled the processing of duty train travelers. [86] (See History of the Berlin S-Bahn.)
    (as a pedestrian or riding in a vehicle)

As with military personnel, special procedures applied to travel by diplomatic personnel of the Western Allies accredited to their respective embassies in the GDR. This was intended to prevent inadvertent recognition of East German authority when crossing between East and West Berlin, which could jeopardize the overall Allied position governing the freedom of movement by Allied forces personnel within all Berlin.

Ordinary citizens of the Western Allied powers, not formally affiliated with the Allied forces, were authorized to use all designated transit routes through East Germany to and from West Berlin. Regarding travel to East Berlin, such persons could also use the Friedrichstraße train station to enter and exit the city, in addition to Checkpoint Charlie. In these instances, such travelers, unlike Allied personnel, had to submit to East German border controls. [86]

Defection attempts

During the years of the Wall, around 5,000 people successfully defected to West Berlin. The number of people who died trying to cross the Wall, or as a result of the Wall's existence, has been disputed. The most vocal claims by Alexandra Hildebrandt, Director of the Checkpoint Charlie Museum and widow of the Museum's founder, estimated the death toll to be well above 200. [7] [8] A historic research group at the Centre for Contemporary History (ZZF) in Potsdam has confirmed at least 140 deaths. [8] Prior official figures listed 98 as being killed.

The East German government issued shooting orders (Schießbefehl) to border guards dealing with defectors, though such orders are not the same as "shoot to kill" orders. GDR officials denied issuing the latter. In an October 1973 order later discovered by researchers, guards were instructed that people attempting to cross the Wall were criminals and needed to be shot:

Do not hesitate to use your firearm, not even when the border is breached in the company of women and children, which is a tactic the traitors have often used. [89]

Early successful escapes involved people jumping the initial barbed wire or leaping out of apartment windows along the line, but these ended as the Wall was fortified. East German authorities no longer permitted apartments near the Wall to be occupied, and any building near the Wall had its windows boarded and later bricked up. On 15 August 1961, Conrad Schumann was the first East German border guard to escape by jumping the barbed wire to West Berlin. [90]

On 22 August 1961, Ida Siekmann was the first casualty at the Berlin Wall: she died after she jumped out of her third floor apartment at 48 Bernauer Strasse. [91] The first person to be shot and killed while trying to cross to West Berlin was Günter Litfin, a twenty-four-year-old tailor. He attempted to swim across the Spree to West Berlin on 24 August 1961, the same day that East German police had received shoot-to-kill orders to prevent anyone from escaping. [92]

Another dramatic escape was carried out in April 1963 by Wolfgang Engels, a 19-year-old civilian employee of the Nationale Volksarmee (NVA). Engels stole a Soviet armored personnel carrier from a base where he was deployed and drove it right into the Wall. He was fired at and seriously wounded by border guards. But a West German policeman intervened, firing his weapon at the East German border guards. The policeman removed Engels from the vehicle, which had become entangled in the barbed wire. [93]

East Germans successfully defected by a variety of methods: digging long tunnels under the Wall, waiting for favorable winds and taking a hot air balloon, sliding along aerial wires, flying ultralights and, in one instance, simply driving a sports car at full speed through the basic, initial fortifications. When a metal beam was placed at checkpoints to prevent this kind of defection, up to four people (two in the front seats and possibly two in the boot) drove under the bar in a sports car that had been modified to allow the roof and windscreen to come away when it made contact with the beam. They lay flat and kept driving forward. The East Germans then built zig-zagging roads at checkpoints. The sewer system predated the Wall, and some people escaped through the sewers, [94] in a number of cases with assistance from the Unternehmen Reisebüro. [95] In September 1962, 29 people escaped through a tunnel to the west. At least 70 tunnels were dug under the wall only 19 were successful in allowing fugitives—about 400 persons—to escape. The East Germany authorities eventually used seismographic and acoustic equipment to detect the practice. [96] [97] In 1962, they planned an attempt to use explosives to destroy one tunnel, but this was not carried out as it was apparently sabotaged by a member of the Stasi. [97]

An airborne escape was made by Thomas Krüger, who landed a Zlin Z 42M light aircraft of the Gesellschaft für Sport und Technik, an East German youth military training organization, at RAF Gatow. His aircraft, registration DDR-WOH, was dismantled and returned to the East Germans by road, complete with humorous slogans painted on it by airmen of the Royal Air Force, such as "Wish you were here" and "Come back soon". [98]

If an escapee was wounded in a crossing attempt and lay on the death strip, no matter how close they were to the Western wall, Westerners could not intervene for fear of triggering engaging fire from the 'Grepos', the East Berlin border guards. The guards often let fugitives bleed to death in the middle of this ground, as in the most notorious failed attempt, that of Peter Fechter (aged 18) at a point near Zimmerstrasse in East Berlin. He was shot and bled to death, in full view of the Western media, on 17 August 1962. [99] Fechter's death created negative publicity worldwide that led the leaders of East Berlin to place more restrictions on shooting in public places and provide medical care for possible "would-be escapers". [100] The last person to be shot and killed while trying to cross the border was Chris Gueffroy on 6 February 1989, while the final person to die in an escape attempt was Winfried Freudenberg who was killed when his homemade natural gas-filled balloon crashed on 8 March 1989.

The Wall gave rise to a widespread sense of desperation and oppression in East Berlin, as expressed in the private thoughts of one resident, who confided to her diary "Our lives have lost their spirit… we can do nothing to stop them." [101]

David Bowie, 1987

On 6 June 1987, David Bowie, who earlier for several years lived and recorded in West Berlin, played a concert close to the Wall. This was attended by thousands of Eastern concertgoers across the Wall, [102] followed by violent rioting in East Berlin. According to Tobias Ruther, these protests in East Berlin were the first in the sequence of riots that led to those of November 1989. [103] [104] Although other factors were probably more influential in the fall of the Wall, [102] upon his death in 2016, the German Foreign Office tweeted "Good-bye, David Bowie. You are now among #Heroes. Thank you for helping to bring down the #wall." [105]

Bruce Springsteen, 1988

On 19 July 1988, 16 months before the Wall came down, Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band, played Rocking the Wall, a live concert in East Berlin, which was attended by 300,000 in person and broadcast on television. Springsteen spoke to the crowd in German, saying: "I'm not here for or against any government. I've come to play rock 'n' roll for you in the hope that one day all the barriers will be torn down". [106] East Germany and its FDJ youth organization were worried they were losing an entire generation. They hoped that by letting Springsteen in, they could improve their sentiment among East Germans. However, this strategy of "one step backwards, two steps forwards" backfired, and the concert only made East Germans hungrier for more of the freedoms that Springsteen epitomized. While John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan delivered their famous speeches from the safety of West Berlin, Springsteen's speaking out against the Wall in the middle of East Berlin added to the euphoria. [106]

David Hasselhoff, 1989

On 31 December 1989, American TV actor and pop music singer David Hasselhoff was the headlining performer for the Freedom Tour Live concert, which was attended by over 500,000 people on both sides of the Wall. The live concert footage was directed by music video director Thomas Mignone and aired on broadcast television station Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen ZDF throughout Europe. During shooting, film crew personnel pulled people up from both sides to stand and celebrate on top of the wall. Hasselhoff sang his number one hit song "Looking For Freedom" on a platform at the end of a twenty-meter steel crane that swung above and over the Wall adjacent to the Brandenburg Gate. [107]

On 26 June 1963, 22 months after the erection of the Berlin Wall, U.S. President John F. Kennedy visited West Berlin. Speaking from a platform erected on the steps of Rathaus Schöneberg for an audience of 450,000 and straying from the prepared script, [108] he declared in his Ich bin ein Berliner speech the support of the United States for West Germany and the people of West Berlin in particular:

Two thousand years ago, the proudest boast was civis romanus sum ["I am a Roman citizen"]. Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is "Ich bin ein Berliner!". All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words "Ich bin ein Berliner!"

The message was aimed as much at the Soviets as it was at Berliners and was a clear statement of U.S. policy in the wake of the construction of the Berlin Wall. The speech is considered one of Kennedy's best, both a significant moment in the Cold War and a high point of the New Frontier. It was a great morale boost for West Berliners, who lived in an exclave deep inside East Germany and feared a possible East German occupation. [109]

Former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher commented in 1982:

Every stone bears witness to the moral bankruptcy of the society it encloses [110]

In a speech at the Brandenburg Gate commemorating the 750th anniversary of Berlin [111] on 12 June 1987, U.S. President Ronald Reagan challenged Mikhail Gorbachev, then the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, to tear down the Wall as a symbol of increasing freedom in the Eastern Bloc:

We welcome change and openness for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this Wall! [112]

In January 1989 GDR leader Erich Honecker predicted that the Wall would stand for 50 or 100 more years [113] if the conditions that had caused its construction did not change.

Due to the increasing economic problems in the Eastern Bloc and the failure of the USSR to intervene in relation to the individual communist states, the brackets of the Eastern Bloc slowly began to loosen from the end of the 1980s. One example is the fall of the communist government in neighboring Poland's 1989 Polish legislative election. Also in June 1989, the Hungarian government began dismantling the electrified fence along its border with Austria (with Western TV crews present) although the border was still very closely guarded and escape was almost impossible.

The opening of a border gate between Austria and Hungary at the Pan-European Picnic on 19 August 1989, which was based on an idea by Otto von Habsburg to test the reaction of Mikhail Gorbachev, [114] then triggered a peaceful chain reaction, at the end of which there was no longer the GDR and the Eastern Bloc had disintegrated. Because with the non-reaction of the USSR and the GDR to the mass exodus, the media-informed Eastern Europeans could feel the increasing loss of power of their governments and more and more East Germans were now trying to flee via Hungary. Erich Honecker explained to the Daily Mirror regarding the Paneuropean picnic and thus showed his people his own inaction: "Habsburg distributed leaflets far into Poland, on which the East German holidaymakers were invited to a picnic. When they came to the picnic, they were given gifts, food and Deutsche Mark, and then they were persuaded to come to the West." [11] [12] [115] Then, in September, more than 13,000 East German tourists escaped through Hungary to Austria. [116] This set up a chain of events. The Hungarians prevented many more East Germans from crossing the border and returned them to Budapest. These East Germans flooded the West German embassy and refused to return to East Germany. [117]

The East German government responded by disallowing any further travel to Hungary but allowed those already there to return to East Germany. [9] This triggered similar events in neighboring Czechoslovakia. This time, however, the East German authorities allowed people to leave, provided that they did so by train through East Germany. This was followed by mass demonstrations within East Germany itself. Protest demonstrations spread throughout East Germany in September 1989. Initially, protesters were mostly people wanting to leave to the West, chanting "Wir wollen raus!" ("We want out!"). Then protestors began to chant "Wir bleiben hier!" ("We are staying here!"). This was the start of what East Germans generally call the "Peaceful Revolution" of late 1989. [118] The protest demonstrations grew considerably by early November. The movement neared its height on 4 November, when half a million people gathered to demand political change, at the Alexanderplatz demonstration, East Berlin's large public square and transportation hub. [119] On 9 October 1989, the police and army units were given permission to use force against those assembled, but this did not deter the church service and march from taking place, which gathered 70,000 people. [120]

The longtime leader of East Germany, Erich Honecker, resigned on 18 October 1989 and was replaced by Egon Krenz that day.

The wave of refugees leaving East Germany for the West kept increasing. By early November refugees were finding their way to Hungary via Czechoslovakia, or via the West German Embassy in Prague. This was tolerated by the new Krenz government, because of long-standing agreements with the communist Czechoslovak government, allowing free travel across their common border. However, this movement of people grew so large it caused difficulties for both countries. To ease the difficulties, the politburo led by Krenz decided on 9 November to allow refugees to exit directly through crossing points between East Germany and West Germany, including between East and West Berlin. Later the same day, the ministerial administration modified the proposal to include private, round-trip, and travel. The new regulations were to take effect the next day. [121]

Günter Schabowski, the party boss in East Berlin and the spokesman for the SED Politburo, had the task of announcing the new regulations. However, he had not been involved in the discussions about the new regulations and had not been fully updated. [122] Shortly before a press conference on 9 November, he was handed a note announcing the changes, but given no further instructions on how to handle the information. These regulations had only been completed a few hours earlier and were to take effect the following day, so as to allow time to inform the border guards. But this starting time delay was not communicated to Schabowski. [48] [ page needed ] At the end of the press conference, Schabowski read out loud the note he had been given. A reporter, ANSA's Riccardo Ehrman, [123] asked when the regulations would take effect. After a few seconds' hesitation, Schabowski replied, "As far as I know, it takes effect immediately, without delay". [48] [ page needed ] After further questions from journalists, he confirmed that the regulations included the border crossings through the Wall into West Berlin, which he had not mentioned until then. [124] He repeated that it was immediate in an interview with American journalist Tom Brokaw. [125]

Excerpts from Schabowski's press conference were the lead story on West Germany's two main news programs that night—at 7:17 p.m. on ZDF's heute and at 8 p.m. on ARD's Tagesschau. As ARD and ZDF had broadcast to nearly all of East Germany since the late 1950s and had become accepted by the East German authorities, the news was broadcast there as well simultaneously. Later that night, on ARD's Tagesthemen, anchorman Hanns Joachim Friedrichs proclaimed, "This 9 November is a historic day. The GDR has announced that, starting immediately, its borders are open to everyone. The gates in the Wall stand open wide." [48] [ page needed ] [122]

After hearing the broadcast, East Germans began gathering at the Wall, at the six checkpoints between East and West Berlin, demanding that border guards immediately open the gates. [122] The surprised and overwhelmed guards made many hectic telephone calls to their superiors about the problem. At first, they were ordered to find the "more aggressive" people gathered at the gates and stamp their passports with a special stamp that barred them from returning to East Germany—in effect, revoking their citizenship. However, this still left thousands of people demanding to be let through "as Schabowski said we can". [48] [ page needed ] It soon became clear that no one among the East German authorities would take personal responsibility for issuing orders to use lethal force, so the vastly outnumbered soldiers had no way to hold back the huge crowd of East German citizens. Finally, at 10:45 p.m. on 9 November, Harald Jäger, the commander of the Bornholmer Straße border crossing yielded, allowing for the guards to open the checkpoints and allowing people through with little or no identity checking. [126] As the Ossis swarmed through, they were greeted by Wessis waiting with flowers and champagne amid wild rejoicing. Soon afterward, a crowd of West Berliners jumped on top of the Wall, and were soon joined by East German youngsters. [127] The evening of 9 November 1989 is known as the night the Wall came down. [128]

Another border crossing to the south may have been opened earlier. An account by Heinz Schäfer indicates that he also acted independently and ordered the opening of the gate at Waltersdorf-Rudow a couple of hours earlier. [129] This may explain reports of East Berliners appearing in West Berlin earlier than the opening of the Bornholmer Straße border crossing. [ citation needed ]

Thirty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, The Guardian collected short stories from 9 November 1989 by five German writers who reflect on the day. In this, Kathrin Schmidt remembers comically: 'I downed almost an entire bottle of schnapps'. [130]


History Didn’t Bring Down the Berlin Wall — Activists Did

On November 9, 1989 — 25 years ago — huge crowds of East Germans descended on the Berlin Wall. The restless citizens were responding to an announcement by authorities suggesting that the government would loosen travel restrictions.

In truth, those in charge intended to make only limited alterations in visa requirements. But these intentions quickly became irrelevant. Mass numbers of people flocked to the wall, overwhelming the border guards. Soon, along with allies from the West, the crowds began dismantling the hated barrier for good.

Remarkably, although the fall of the Berlin Wall was an iconic moment, it was just one of the highlights in a flurry of activity that was sweeping through the Soviet Bloc — a series of uprisings that would become known as the revolutions of 1989.

Every so often, we witness a period of mass insurgency that seems to defy the accepted rules of politics: Protests seem to begin popping up everywhere. Organizers see their rallies packed with newcomers who come from far outside their regular network of supporters. Mainstream analysts, taken by surprise, struggle for words. And those in power scramble as the political landscape around them dramatically shifts — sometimes leaving once-entrenched leaders in perilous positions.

If ever there was a time in modern history that exemplified such a moment of peak public activity, it was the second half of 1989.

Although the crowds at the Berlin Wall on November 9 assembled in impromptu fashion, their gathering was not altogether spontaneous. It came after months of growing demonstrations and escalating pressure on the country’s Communist Party. Throughout the fall, weekly rallies in Leipzig called for freedom of travel and democratic elections. Demonstrations in that city began with just a few hundred protesters, but they grew exponentially until, by early November, they were attracting as many as half a million people. The contagion reached other cities as well: Mass protests started erupting in Dresden, East Berlin, and beyond.

Demonstrations in East Germany did not feed only off each other they also drew energy from what had become a region-wide revolt. Earlier that year, in the spring, historic marches in Hungary set an example of how popular pressure could propel forward negotiations with a reformist government. That summer, in Poland, the union-based opposition party Solidarity — having led a series of crippling strikes the year before — won a stunning and decisive victory in the country’s newly liberalized elections. By autumn, rebellion was in full bloom. Hardly more than a week after the November 9 revolt in East Germany, students in Prague undertook the first demonstration of the “Velvet Revolution.” By the end of the month, social movements would call a general strike and force the end of one-party rule in Czechoslovakia.

Looking back now, what can we learn from these extraordinary mobilizations?

Conventional political analysts see the revolutions of 1989 as a spontaneous, once-in-a-lifetime swelling of popular discontent. Their description of the wave of uprisings in Eastern Europe mirrors the assertions they make virtually every time an outbreak of mass mobilization erupts on the political stage: They tell us that these moments of peak activity are rare and unpredictable. They contend that mass protest is the product of broad historical forces. And they suggest that no one could consciously engineer events that trigger such upheavals.

On each of these points, the political tradition known as “civil resistance” offers a contrary interpretation. Those who listen will take very different lessons from the momentous ferment of 25 years ago.

Civil resistance — the study and practice of nonviolent conflict — is a tradition that traces its lineage through the campaigns of Gandhi, the U.S. civil rights movement, the works of scholars such as Gene Sharp, and contemporary revolts such as the Arab Spring. Immersed in the study of how unarmed uprisings work, analysts in this tradition put forth several propositions that challenge conventional wisdom about 1989: They contend, first, that extraordinary mobilizations are not as rare as they might seem second, that there is an art to organizing around them and third, that activists willing to embrace a strategy of nonviolent escalation can often set off historic upheavals of their own.

Uprisings large and small

Prior to the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, the idea that the Iron Curtain would fall not primarily through coups and military maneuvers, but through the mobilization of mass, unarmed resistance would have seemed improbable at best and quite possibly deluded. But what has been remarkable in recent decades is how frequently new examples of successful civil resistance have presented themselves. From the Philippines, to Chile, to South Africa, to Serbia, to Tunisia and Egypt, and beyond, the repertoire of civil resistance has ushered in remarkable changes.

Certainly, the revolutions of 1989 were exceptional in their breadth and impact. Yet, viewed in another way, mass uprisings are a more regular part of our political lives than we often acknowledge. Once you are looking for them, popular mobilizations start to appear constantly — materializing with little notice in diverse countries, drawing new participants out of the woodwork, and upending politics as usual. The Arab Spring of 2011 is an obvious example, one which evoked memories of Eastern Europe. But momentous disruptions need not be so sweeping and international to be significant. Nor need they take place in undemocratic contexts.

Just in the United States, and just in the past 15 years, we have seen disruptive outbreaks emerge with shocking frequency, capturing the spotlight at a wide range of levels, from the national to the local. Nationwide, landmark protests against the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund in Seattle and Washington, D.C. at the turn of the century were followed by massive anti-war mobilizations in New York and San Francisco in 2003. Historic immigration marches that materialized in 2006 were followed by the multiplying encampments of the Occupy movement in 2011. State-level mobilizations such as the Wisconsin uprising, citywide protests against police brutality in Oakland and Ferguson, and campus living wage sit-ins, while taking place on more modest scales, have all had outsized impact in galvanizing public debate. For intensive spurts, each drew in unusual numbers of participants, activating people in ways that are mysterious and foreign to conventional politics.

That mainstream commentators are taken by surprise, again and again, by such mobilizations — large and small — speaks more to their own biases than to the contours of how social change happens.

And yet their biases are not unique. A predisposition toward gradualism extends even into social movement circles. The school of community organizing pioneered by Saul Alinsky has traditionally viewed mass mobilizations with suspicion. Organizers in this lineage charge that outbreaks of protest are flashes in the pan, too unpredictable and unsustainable to be relied upon. They stress that their goal is to build “organizations” not “movements” they seek to create institutions that can leverage grassroots power on an ongoing basis. Interestingly, Alinsky himself was more open to extraordinary potential of peak moments than many of his ideological descendents. Seeing the rush of civil rights activity that followed the 1961 Freedom Rides in the segregated South, Alinsky and his protégé Nicholas von Hoffman dubbed it a “moment of the whirlwind.” The two agreed on the need to temporarily set aside their normal organizing methodologies in order to tap into the energy of the extraordinary uprising.

The politics of the unusual

In contrast to conventional politicians, and even to many organizers, Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King carefully studied the dynamics of creating moments of the whirlwind. They were specialists in the politics of the unusual. Through the use of nonviolent conflict, they sought to produce ruptures in the normal functioning of the political system, and thus to propel previously ignored injustices to the fore of public consciousness. It was their talent for doing so that secured their places in history.

In his famous 1963 letter from the Birmingham city jail, King explained that the purpose of direct action “is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation” with otherwise intransigent adversaries. Early in his career, King had been reluctantly thrown into crises created by other activists and organizations. But by the time of the Birmingham campaign, he had developed a savvy understanding of how to manufacture nonviolent conflicts that could stir national indignation and move foot-dragging politicians.

In his 1968 book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?, he described civil rights organizations using militant direct action as “specialists in agitation and dramatic projects,” creating “explosive events” that “attracted massive sympathy and support.” He self-critically noted that these events were no substitute for building institutional structures that could sustain the fight for the long haul. Still, the uprisings he helped create in places like Birmingham and Selma had shaken the American public like few other efforts and had become defining peaks in the push for civil rights.

Decades before, Gandhi had likewise articulated how nonviolent conflict could be used to consciously provoke social crises. “Those who have to bring about radical changes in human conditions and surroundings,” he wrote in 1932, “cannot do it except by raising a ferment in society.”

One of the earliest studies of Gandhi’s method, Krishnalal Shridharani’s 1939 text War Without Violence, elaborates on this theme. It notes that unarmed uprisings often have more in common with war than with routine interest group politics. “Underlying … both violence and non-violence,” Shridharani writes, “is the basic assumption that certain radical social changes cannot be brought about save by mass action capable of precipitating an emotional crisis, and that the humdrum everyday existence of human life needs shaking up in order that man may arrive at fateful decisions.”

In 1930, when the time came for a decisive confrontation with the British Raj, the Indian National Congress entrusted Gandhi as the sole strategist in charge of crafting its direct action challenge. Congress members did so not because they were his spiritual disciples — in fact, many distrusted his otherworldly faith in the power of redemptive suffering — but rather because Gandhi had gained a hard-won reputation for being able to create disruptions of historic proportions. In this case, the result was the famous Salt March of 1930, one of the landmark events in the drive for Indian self-determination.

An undetermined future

When social movements are able to provoke political crises that prompt dramatic change, they are not always given much credit for their efforts.

Looking at the revolutions of 1989, some political scientists hardly discuss popular movements at all. Instead, they focus on economic and geopolitical developments. They stress how the long-term strain caused by competition with the West and the perpetual economic crises in the Eastern Bloc fomented unrest. They highlight Mikhail Gorbachev’s signals that the Soviet Union would tolerate reform rather than replicating the Chinese crackdown at Tiananmen. These stances are part of a wider trend: Political analysts commonly describe the timing and fortunes of mass uprisings as the product of historic conditions rather than the decisions of citizens themselves.

Analysts in the field of civil resistance do not deny the importance of economic and political context. But they emphasize the interplay of such conditions with the skills of social movement participants — the agency of activists, as reflected in their strategic choices and on-the-ground execution.

Historians have the luxury of looking back after the fact of an uprising and identifying the structural forces and historical peculiarities that contributed to a successful effort, or that helped to sink an unsuccessful one. Activists on the ground, in contrast, never have the benefit of hindsight, and they must make the most of whatever conditions they encounter. As Hardy Merriman, an analyst and trainer in nonviolent conflict, writes , “agency and skills make a difference, and in some cases have enabled movements to overcome, circumvent, or transform adverse conditions.”

It is important to note that, overwhelmingly, the same experts who would later credit historical conditions for the momentous shifts of 1989 did not foresee the potential that existed at the time. Writing for the leading journal Foreign Affairs in 1987, a former U.S. ambassador to Czechoslovakia argued that, despite signs of openness from Gorbachev, “there is no prospect of fundamental change in relations between [Warsaw Pact] countries and the USSR.” In the face of such discouraging prognoses, it took a daring and skillful leap of faith for activists to challenge the entrenched and repressive regimes that ruled over them.

From trigger to explosion

Ultimately, neither skills nor conditions are enough on their own. At any given time, history might offer up a “trigger event” that provokes widespread outrage and sends people into the streets. But it takes determined escalation on the part of social movements to keep the issue in the spotlight, to compel greater participation and sacrifice, and to repeatedly reinforce the sense of public urgency.

A final lesson that we can draw in looking back at the revolutions of 1989 is that, when a whirlwind truly begins churning, it is not the result of one incident. Rather, it is the product of multiple, compounding crises — many of which are the result of deliberate effort.

In his book Doing Democracy, Bill Moyer, a long-time social movement trainer and theorist of the nonviolent direct action tradition in the United States, describes the concept of a “trigger event.” A trigger is a “highly publicized, shocking incident” that “dramatically reveals a critical social problem to the public in a vivid way.” These events, Moyer argues, are an essential part of the cycle of every social movement. They create vital windows in which activists can rally mass participation and sharply increase public support for a cause.

Prominent examples of trigger events include the accident at the Three Mile Island power plant in 1979, which suddenly made nuclear safety a hot button issue. Just days after the accident, a previously planned anti-nuclear rally in San Francisco that ordinarily might have attracted hundreds of participants instead drew a crowd of 25,000. Similarly, the 1955 arrest of Rosa Parks for refusing to move to the back of a segregated bus prompted a community-wide boycott in Montgomery, Alabama. And the self-immolation of Tunisian fruit seller Muhammad Bouazizi set off the revolts of the Arab Spring in 2011.

Trigger events, however, are only the beginning they provide no guarantee of change. There are countless instances of oil spills and school shootings, for example, that spark outrage but ultimately have little impact on political life. Likewise, there have been many other self-immolations that did not have the effect of Bouazizi’s.

In truth, the triggers that do morph into explosive revolts are often less accidental than they first appear. Civil resistance works when groups are willing to seize an opportunity and escalate — rallying the power of mass participation and personal sacrifice in order to produce ever more ambitious acts of resistance. Before Rosa Parks, there had been previous arrests on Jim Crow buses, but civil rights groups consciously chose to make Parks’ arrest into a test case for segregation, in part because she was a committed activist herself. In other instances, from the Salt March, to Birmingham, to Occupy, movements created their own trigger events, using disruptive actions to make headlines, prompt a reaction from authorities, and begin a cycle in which new participants could join in to ever-larger actions.

On November 17, 1989, a week after the Berlin Wall fell, students in Prague held a march to mark the anniversary of a university activist who had been killed during the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia. Sociologists Lester Kurtz and Lee Smithey describe how, when the students encountered security forces, they offered flowers to police and waved their bare hands in the air. The police attacked nevertheless, indiscriminately bludgeoning the students with their truncheons.

“This was the spark that set Czechoslovakia alight,” one writer later remarked.

Certainly, the students were responding to the swelling of revolt in countries all around them. But it was their decision to brave the threat of repression — knowing the dangers, but not the consequences — that launched the Velvet Revolution. And it was the decision of countless others to join them that gave the revolution its force. Today, few things about the whirlwind uprisings of 1989 are more relevant to remember than this choice: to rise up in the face of uncertain outcomes, to risk escalation, and to create the possibility of setting a movement ablaze.


Opening of the Iron Curtain Edit

The opening of the Iron Curtain between Austria and Hungary at the Pan-European Picnic on August 19, 1989 set in motion a peaceful chain reaction, at the end of which there was no longer an East Germany and the Eastern Bloc had disintegrated. Extensive advertising for the planned picnic was made by posters and flyers among the GDR holidaymakers in Hungary. It was the largest escape movement from East Germany since the Berlin Wall was built in 1961. After the picnic, which was based on an idea by Otto von Habsburg to test the reaction of the USSR and Mikhail Gorbachev to an opening of the border, tens of thousands of media-informed East Germans set off for Hungary. Erich Honecker dictated to the Daily Mirror for the Paneuropa Picnic: "Habsburg distributed leaflets far into Poland, on which the East German holidaymakers were invited to a picnic. When they came to the picnic, they were given gifts, food and Deutsche Mark, and then they were persuaded to come to the West." The leadership of the GDR in East Berlin did not dare to completely block the borders of their own country and the USSR did not respond at all. Thus the bracket of the Eastern Bloc was broken. [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7]

Following the summer of 1989, by early November refugees were finding their way to Hungary via Czechoslovakia or via the West German embassy in Prague.

The emigration was initially tolerated because of long-standing agreements with the communist Czechoslovak government, allowing free travel across their common border. However, this movement of people grew so large it caused difficulties for both countries. In addition, East Germany was struggling to meet loan payments on foreign borrowings Egon Krenz sent Alexander Schalck-Golodkowski to unsuccessfully ask West Germany for a short-term loan to make interest payments. [8] : 344

Political changes in East Germany Edit

On 18 October 1989, longtime Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) leader Erich Honecker stepped down in favor of Krenz. Honecker had been seriously ill, and those looking to replace him were initially willing to wait for a "biological solution", but by October were convinced that the political and economic situation was too grave. [8] : 339 Honecker approved the choice, naming Krenz in his resignation speech, [9] and the Volkskammer duly elected him. Although Krenz promised reforms in his first public speech, [10] he was considered by the East German public to be following his predecessor's policies, and public protests demanding his resignation continued. [8] : 347 Despite promises of reform, public opposition to the regime continued to grow.

On 1 November, Krenz authorized the reopening of the border with Czechoslovakia, which had been sealed to prevent East Germans from fleeing to West Germany. [11] On 4 November, the Alexanderplatz demonstration took place. [12]

On 6 November, the Interior Ministry published a draft of new travel regulations, which made cosmetic changes to Honecker-era rules, leaving the approval process opaque and maintaining uncertainty regarding access to foreign currency. The draft enraged ordinary citizens, and was denounced as "complete trash" by West Berlin Mayor Walter Momper. [13] Hundreds of refugees crowded onto the steps of the West German embassy in Prague, enraging the Czechoslovaks, who threatened to seal off the East German-Czechoslovak border. [14]

On 7 November, Krenz approved the resignation of Prime Minister Willi Stoph and two-thirds of the Politburo however Krenz was unanimously re-elected as General Secretary by the Central Committee. [8] : 341

New East German emigration policy Edit

On 19 October, Krenz asked Gerhard Lauter to draft a new travel policy. [15] Lauter was a former People's Police officer. After rising rapidly through the ranks he had recently been promoted to a position with the Interior Ministry ("Home Office" / "Department of the Interior") as head of the department responsible for issuing passports and the registration of citizens. [16]

At a Politburo meeting on 7 November it was decided to enact a portion of the draft travel regulations addressing permanent emigration immediately. Initially, the Politburo planned to create a special border crossing near Schirnding specifically for this emigration. [17] Interior Ministry officials and Stasi bureaucrats charged with drafting the new text, however, concluded this was not feasible, and crafted a new text relating to both emigration and temporary travel. It stipulated that East German citizens could apply for permission to travel abroad without having to meet the previous requirements for those trips. [18] To ease the difficulties, the Politburo led by Krenz decided on 9 November to allow refugees to exit directly through crossing points between East Germany and West Germany, including between East and West Berlin. Later the same day, the ministerial administration modified the proposal to include private, round-trip, travel. The new regulations were to take effect the next day. [19]

VVS b2-937/89 Edit

Zur Veränderung der Situation der ständigen Ausreise von DDR-Bürgern nach der BRD über die CSSR wird festgelegt:

1) Die Verordnung vom 30. November 1988 über Reisen von Bürgern der DDR in das Ausland (GBl. I Nr. 25 S. 271) findet bis zur Inkraftsetzung des neuen Reisegesetzes keine Anwendung mehr.

2) Ab sofort treten folgende zeitweilige Übergangsregelungen für Reisen und ständige Ausreisen aus der DDR in das Ausland in Kraft:

a. Privatreisen nach dem Ausland können ohne Vorliegen von Voraussetzungen (Reiseanlässe und Verwandtschaftsverhältnisse) beantragt werden. Die Genehmigungen werden kurzfristig erteilt. Versagungsgründe werden nur in besonderen Ausnahmefällen angewandt.

b. Die zuständigen Abteilungen Paß- und Meldewesen der VPKÄ in der DDR sind angewiesen, Visa zur ständigen Ausreise unverzüglich zu erteilen, ohne daß dafür noch geltende Voraussetzungen für eine ständige Ausreise vorliegen müssen. Die Antragstellung auf ständige Ausreise ist wie bisher auch bei den Abteilungen Innere Angelegenheiten möglich.

c. Ständige Ausreisen können über alle Grenzübergangsstellen der DDR zur BRD bzw. zu Berlin (West) erfolgen.

d. Damit entfällt die vorübergehend ermöglichte Erteilung von entsprechenden Genehmigungen in Auslandsvertretungen der DDR bzw. die ständige Ausreise mit dem Personalausweis der DDR über Drittstaaten.

3) Über die zeitweiligen Übergangsregelungen ist die beigefügte Pressemitteilung am 10. November 1989 zu veröffentlichen.

1. The decree from 30 November 1988 about travel abroad of East German citizens will no longer be applied until the new travel law comes into force.

2. Starting immediately, the following temporary transition regulations for travel abroad and permanent exits from East Germany are in effect:

a) Applications by private individuals for travel abroad can now be made without the previously existing requirements (of demonstrating a need to travel or proving familial relationships). The travel authorizations will be issued within a short period of time. Grounds for denial will only be applied in particularly exceptional cases.

b) The responsible departments of passport and registration control in the People's Police district offices in East Germany are instructed to issue visas for permanent exit without delays and without presentation of the existing requirements for permanent exit. It is still possible to apply for permanent exit in the departments for internal affairs [of the local district or city councils].

c) Permanent exits are possible via all East German border crossings to West Germany and (West) Berlin.

d) The temporary practice of issuing (travel) authorizations through East German consulates and permanent exit with only an East German personal identity card via third countries ceases.

3. The attached press release explaining the temporary transition regulation will be issued on 10 November.

Verantwortlich: Regierungssprecher beim Ministerrat der DDR

Wie die Presseabteilung des Ministeriums des Innern mitteilt, hat der Ministerrat der DDR beschlossen, daß bis zum Inkrafttreten einer entsprechenden gesetzlichen Regelung durch die Volkskammer folgende zeitweilige Übergangsregelung für Reisen und ständige Ausreisen aus der DDR ins Ausland in Kraft gesetzt wird:

1. Privatreisen nach dem Ausland können ohne Vorliegen von Voraussetzungen (Reiseanlässe und Verwandtschaftsverhältnisse) beantragt werden. Die Genehmigungen werden kurzfristig erteilt. Versagungsgründe werden nur in besonderen Ausnahmefällen angewandt.

2. Die zuständigen Abteilungen Paß- und Meldewesen der VPKÄ in der DDR sind angewiesen, Visa zur ständigen Ausreise unverzüglich zu erteilen, ohne daß dafür noch geltende Voraussetzungen für eine ständige Ausreise vorliegen müssen. Die Antragstellung auf ständige Ausreise ist wie bisher auch bei den Abteilungen Innere Angelegenheiten möglich.

3. Ständige Ausreisen können über alle Grenzübergangsstellen der DDR zur BRD bzw. zu Berlin (West) erfolgen.

4. Damit entfällt die vorübergehend ermöglichte Erteilung von entsprechenden Genehmigungen in Auslandsvertretungen der DDR bzw. die ständige Ausreise mit dem Personalausweis der DDR über Drittstaaten.

Responsible: Government spokesman of East Germany Council of Ministers

As the Press Office of the Ministry of the Interior has announced, the East German Council of Ministers has decided that the following temporary transition regulation for travel abroad and permanent exit from East Germany will be effective until a corresponding law is put into effect by the Volkskammer:

1) Applications by private individuals for travel abroad can now be made without the previously existing requirements (of demonstrating a need to travel or proving familial relationships). The travel authorizations will be issued within a short period of time. Grounds for denial will only be applied in particularly exceptional cases.

2) The responsible departments of passport and registration control in the People's Police district offices in East Germany are instructed to issue visas for permanent exit without delays and without presentation of the existing requirements for permanent exit. It is still possible to apply for permanent exit in the departments for internal affairs [of the local district or city councils].

3) Permanent exits are possible via all East German border crossings to West Germany and (West) Berlin.

4) This decision revokes the temporary practice of issuing (travel) authorizations through East German consulates and permanent exit with only an East German personal identity card via third countries ceases.

Misinformed public announcements Edit

The announcement of the regulations which brought down the wall took place at an hour-long press conference led by Günter Schabowski, the party leader in East Berlin and the top government spokesman, beginning at 18:00 CET on 9 November and broadcast live on East German television and radio. Schabowski was joined by Minister of Foreign Trade Gerhard Beil and Central Committee members Helga Labs and Manfred Banaschak. [1] [8] : 352

Schabowski had not been involved in the discussions about the new regulations and had not been fully updated. [22] Shortly before the press conference, he was handed a note from Krenz announcing the changes, but given no further instructions on how to handle the information. The text stipulated that East German citizens could apply for permission to travel abroad without having to meet the previous requirements for those trips, and also allowed for permanent emigration between all border crossings—including those between East and West Berlin. [18]

At 18:53, near the end of the press conference, ANSA's Riccardo Ehrman asked if the draft travel law of 6 November was a mistake. Schabowski gave a confusing answer that asserted it was necessary because West Germany had exhausted its capacity to accept fleeing East Germans, then remembered the note he had been given and added that a new law had been drafted to allow permanent emigration at any border crossing. This caused a stir in the room amid several questions at once, Schabowski expressed surprise that the reporters had not yet seen this law, and started reading from the note. [1] After this, a reporter, either Ehrman or Bild-Zeitung reporter Peter Brinkmann, both of whom were sitting in the front row at the press conference, [23] [24] [25] asked when the regulations would take effect. [1] After a few seconds' hesitation, Schabowski replied, "As far as I know, it takes effect immediately, without delay" (German: Das tritt nach meiner Kenntnis … ist das sofort … unverzüglich.) [26] [27] [8] : 352 This was an apparent assumption based on the note's opening paragraph as Beil attempted to interject that it was up to the Council of Ministers to decide when it took effect, Schabowski proceeded to read this clause, which stated it was in effect until a law on the matter was passed by the Volkskammer. Crucially, a journalist then asked if the regulation also applied to the crossings to West Berlin. Schabowski shrugged and read item 3 of the note, which confirmed that it did. [24] [1]

After this exchange, Daniel Johnson of The Daily Telegraph asked what this law meant for the Berlin Wall. Schabowski sat frozen before giving a rambling statement about the Wall being tied to the larger disarmament question. [28] [29] He then ended the press conference promptly at 19:00 as journalists hurried from the room. [24] [1]

After the press conference, Schabowski sat for an interview with NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw in which he repeated that East Germans would be able to emigrate through the border and the regulations would go into effect immediately. [30] [31]

Spreading news Edit

The news began spreading immediately: the West German Deutsche Presse-Agentur issued a bulletin at 19:04 which reported that East German citizens would be able to cross the inner German border "immediately". Excerpts from Schabowski's press conference were broadcast on West Germany's two main news programs that night—at 19:17 on ZDF's heute, which came on the air as the press conference was ending, and as the lead story at 20:00 on ARD's Tagesschau. As ARD and ZDF had broadcast to nearly all of East Germany since the late 1950s, were far more widely viewed than the East German channels, and had become accepted by the East German authorities, this is how most of the population heard the news. Later that night, on ARD's Tagesthemen, anchorman Hanns Joachim Friedrichs proclaimed, "This 9 November is a historic day. The GDR has announced that, starting immediately, its borders are open to everyone. The gates in the Wall stand open wide." [8] : 353 [22]

In 2009, Ehrman claimed that a member of the Central Committee had called him and urged him to ask about the travel law during the press conference, but Schabowski called that absurd. [25] Ehrman later recanted this statement in a 2014 interview with an Austrian journalist, admitting that the caller was Günter Pötschke, head of the East German news agency ADN, and he only asked if Ehrman would attend the press conference. [32]

Peace prayers at Nikolai Church Edit

Despite the policy of state atheism in East Germany, Christian pastor Christian Führer regularly met with his congregation at St. Nicholas Church for prayer since 1982. [33] [34] Over the next seven years, the Church grew, despite authorities barricading the streets leading to it, and after church services, peaceful candlelit marches took place. [33] The secret police issued death threats and even attacked some of the marchers, but the crowd still continued to gather. [33] On 9 October 1989, the police and army units were given permission to use force against those assembled, but this did not deter the church service and march from taking place, which gathered 70,000 people. [33] [34] Many of those people started to cross into East Berlin, without a shot being fired. [33]

Crowding of the border Edit

After hearing the broadcast, East Germans began gathering at the Wall, at the six checkpoints between East and West Berlin, demanding that border guards immediately open the gates. [22] The surprised and overwhelmed guards made many hectic telephone calls to their superiors about the problem. At first, they were ordered to find the "more aggressive" people gathered at the gates and stamp their passports with a special stamp that barred them from returning to East Germany—in effect, revoking their citizenship. However, this still left thousands of people demanding to be let through "as Schabowski said we can". [8] : 353 It soon became clear that no one among the East German authorities would take personal responsibility for issuing orders to use lethal force, so the vastly outnumbered soldiers had no way to hold back the huge crowd of East German citizens. Mary Elise Sarotte in a 2009 Washington Post story characterized the series of events leading to the fall of the wall as an accident, saying "One of the most momentous events of the past century was, in fact, an accident, a semicomical and bureaucratic mistake that owes as much to the Western media as to the tides of history." [22]

Border openings Edit

Finally, at 10:45 p.m. (alternatively given as 11:30 p.m.) on 9 November, Harald Jäger, commander of the Bornholmer Straße border crossing, yielded, allowing guards to open the checkpoints and letting people through with little or no identity-checking. [35] [36] As the Ossis swarmed through, they were greeted by Wessis waiting with flowers and champagne amid wild rejoicing. Soon afterward, a crowd of West Berliners jumped on top of the Wall and were soon joined by East German youngsters. [37] The evening of 9 November 1989 is known as the night the Wall came down. [38]

Walking through Checkpoint Charlie, 10 November 1989

Juggling on the Wall on 16 November 1989

"Mauerspecht" (November 1989)

The Fall of the Wall (November 1989)

Celebration at the border crossing in the Schlutup district of Lübeck

Another border crossing to the south may have been opened earlier. An account by Heinz Schäfer indicates that he also acted independently and ordered the opening of the gate at Waltersdorf-Rudow a couple of hours earlier. [39] This may explain reports of East Berliners appearing in West Berlin earlier than the opening of the Bornholmer Straße border crossing. [39]

"Wallpeckers" demolition Edit

Removal of the Wall began on the evening of 9 November 1989 and continued over the following days and weeks, with people nicknamed Mauerspechte (wallpeckers) using various tools to chip off souvenirs, demolishing lengthy parts in the process, and creating several unofficial border crossings. [40]

Television coverage of citizens demolishing sections of the Wall on 9 November was soon followed by the East German regime announcing ten new border crossings, including the historically significant locations of Potsdamer Platz, Glienicker Brücke, and Bernauer Straße. Crowds gathered on both sides of the historic crossings waiting for hours to cheer the bulldozers that tore down portions of the Wall to reconnect the divided roads. While the Wall officially remained guarded at a decreasing intensity, new border crossings continued for some time. Initially the East German Border Troops attempted repairing damage done by the "wallpeckers" gradually these attempts ceased, and guards became more lax, tolerating the increasing demolitions and "unauthorized" border crossing through the holes. [41]

Prime ministers meet Edit

The Brandenburg Gate in the Berlin Wall was opened on 22 December 1989 on that date, West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl walked through the gate and was greeted by East German Prime Minister Hans Modrow. [42] West Germans and West Berliners were allowed visa-free travel starting 23 December. [41] Until then, they could only visit East Germany and East Berlin under restrictive conditions that involved application for a visa several days or weeks in advance and obligatory exchange of at least 25 DM per day of their planned stay, all of which hindered spontaneous visits. Thus, in the weeks between 9 November and 23 December, East Germans could actually travel more freely than Westerners. [41]

Official demolition Edit

On 13 June 1990, the East German Border Troops officially began dismantling the Wall, [43] [44] beginning in Bernauer Straße and around the Mitte district. From there, demolition continued through Prenzlauer Berg/Gesundbrunnen, Heiligensee and throughout the city of Berlin until December 1990. According to estimates by the border troops, a total of around 1.7 million tonnes of building rubble was produced by the demolition. Unofficially, the demolition of the Bornholmer Straße began because of construction work on the railway. This involved a total of 300 GDR border guards and—after 3 October 1990—600 Pioneers of the Bundeswehr. These were equipped with 175 trucks, 65 cranes, 55 excavators and 13 bulldozers. Virtually every road that was severed by the Berlin Wall, every road that once linked from West Berlin to East Berlin, was reconstructed and reopened by 1 August 1990. In Berlin alone, 184 km (114 mi) of wall, 154 km (96 mi) border fence, 144 km (89 mi) signal systems and 87 km (54 mi) barrier ditches were removed. What remained were six sections that were to be preserved as a memorial. Various military units dismantled the Berlin/Brandenburg border wall, completing the job in November 1991. Painted wall segments with artistically valuable motifs were put up for auction in 1990 in Berlin and Monte Carlo. [41]

On 1 July 1990, the day East Germany adopted the West German currency, all de jure border controls ceased, although the inter-German border had become meaningless for some time before that. [45] The demolition of the Wall was completed in 1994. [43]

The fall of the Wall marked the first critical step towards German reunification, which formally concluded a mere 339 days later on 3 October 1990 with the dissolution of East Germany and the official reunification of the German state along the democratic lines of the West German Basic Law. [40]

An East German guard talks to a Westerner through a broken seam in the wall in late November 1989.

A crane removes a section of the Wall near Brandenburg Gate on 21 December 1989.

Almost all of the remaining sections were rapidly chipped away. December 1990.

West Germans peer at East German border guards through a hole in the wall on 5 January 1990.

Short section of the Berlin Wall at Potsdamer Platz, March 2009

Souvenir chunk of concrete from the Wall

International opposition Edit

French President François Mitterrand and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher both opposed the fall of the Berlin Wall and the eventual reunification of Germany, fearing potential German designs on its neighbours using its increased strength. In September 1989, Margaret Thatcher privately confided to Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev that she wanted the Soviet leader to do what he could to stop it. [46] [47]

We do not want a united Germany. This would lead to a change to postwar borders and we cannot allow that because such a development would undermine the stability of the whole international situation and could endanger our security, Thatcher told Gorbachev. [46]

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, François Mitterrand warned Thatcher that a unified Germany could make more ground than Adolf Hitler ever had and that Europe would have to bear the consequences. [48]

Celebrations and anniversaries Edit

On 21 November 1989, Crosby, Stills & Nash performed the song "Chippin' Away" from Graham Nash's 1986 solo album Innocent Eyes in front of the Brandenburg Gate. [49]

On 25 December 1989, Leonard Bernstein gave a concert in Berlin celebrating the end of the Wall, including Beethoven's 9th symphony (Ode to Joy) with the word "Joy" (Freude) changed to "Freedom" (Freiheit) in the lyrics sung. The poet Schiller may have originally written "Freedom" and changed it to "Joy" out of fear. The orchestra and choir were drawn from both East and West Germany, as well as the United Kingdom, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States. [50] On New Year's Eve 1989, David Hasselhoff performed his song "Looking for Freedom" while standing atop the partly demolished wall. [51] Roger Waters performed the Pink Floyd album The Wall just north of Potsdamer Platz on 21 July 1990, with guests including Bon Jovi, Scorpions, Bryan Adams, Sinéad O'Connor, Cyndi Lauper, Thomas Dolby, Joni Mitchell, Marianne Faithfull, Levon Helm, Rick Danko and Van Morrison. [52]

Over the years, there has been a repeated controversial debate [53] as to whether 9 November would make a suitable German national holiday, often initiated by former members of political opposition in East Germany, such as Werner Schulz. [54] Besides being the emotional apogee of East Germany's peaceful revolution, 9 November is also the date of the 1918 abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II and declaration of the Weimar Republic, the first German republic. However, 9 November is also the anniversary of the execution of Robert Blum following the 1848 Vienna revolts, the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch and the infamous Kristallnacht pogroms of the Nazis in 1938. Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel criticised the first euphoria, noting that "they forgot that 9 November has already entered into history—51 years earlier it marked the Kristallnacht." [55] As reunification was not official and complete until 3 October (1990), that day was finally chosen as German Unity Day.

10th anniversary celebrations Edit

On 9 November 1999, the 10th anniversary was observed with a concert and fireworks at the vid Brandenburg Gate. Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich played music by Johann Sebastian Bach, while German rock band Scorpions performed their 1990 song Wind of Change. Wreaths were placed for victims shot down when attempts to escape to west, and politicians delivered speeches. [56] [57]

20th anniversary celebrations Edit

On 9 November 2009, Berlin celebrated the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall with a "Festival of Freedom" with dignitaries from around the world in attendance for an evening celebration around the Brandenburg Gate. A high point was when over 1,000 colourfully designed foam domino tiles, each over 8 feet (2.4 m) tall, that were stacked along the former route of the Wall in the city center were toppled in stages, converging in front of the Brandenburg Gate. [58]

A Berlin Twitter Wall was set up to allow Twitter users to post messages commemorating the 20th anniversary. The Chinese government quickly shut down access to the Twitter Wall after masses of Chinese users began using it to protest the Great Firewall of China. [59] [60] [61]

In the United States, the German Embassy coordinated a public diplomacy campaign with the motto "Freedom Without Walls", to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The campaign was focused on promoting awareness of the fall of the Berlin Wall among current college students. Students at over 30 universities participated in "Freedom Without Walls" events in late 2009. First place winner of the Freedom Without Walls Speaking Contest [62] Robert Cannon received a free trip to Berlin for 2010. [63]

An international project called Mauerreise (Journey of the Wall) took place in various countries. Twenty symbolic Wall bricks were sent from Berlin starting in May 2009, with the destinations being Korea, Cyprus, Yemen, and other places where everyday life is characterised by division and border experience. In these places, the bricks would become a blank canvas for artists, intellectuals and young people to tackle the "wall" phenomenon. [64]

To commemorate the 20th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall, the 3D online virtual world Twinity reconstructed a true-to-scale section of the Wall in virtual Berlin. [65] The MTV Europe Music Awards, on 5 November, had U2 and Tokio Hotel perform songs dedicated to, and about the Berlin Wall. U2 performed at the Brandenburg Gate, and Tokio Hotel performed "World Behind My Wall".

Palestinians in the town of Kalandia, West Bank pulled down parts of the Israeli West Bank barrier, in a demonstration marking the 20th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall. [66]

The International Spy Museum in Washington D.C., hosted a Trabant car rally where 20 Trabants gathered in recognition of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Rides were raffled every half-hour and a Trabant crashed through a Berlin Wall mock up. The Trabant was the East German people's car that many used to leave DDR after the collapse. [67] [68]

The Allied Museum in the Dahlem district of Berlin hosted a number of events to mark the Twentieth Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall. The museum held a Special Exhibition entitled "Wall Patrol – The Western Powers and the Berlin Wall 1961–1990" which focused on the daily patrols deployed by the Western powers to observe the situation along the Berlin Wall and the fortifications on the GDR border. [69] A sheet of "Americans in Berlin" Commemorative Cinderella stamps designed by T.H.E. Hill, the author of the novel Voices Under Berlin, was presented to the Museum by David Guerra, Berlin veteran and webmaster of the site www.berlinbrigade.com. The stamps splendidly illustrate that even twenty years on, veterans of service in Berlin still regard their service there as one of the high points of their lives. [70]

30th anniversary celebrations Edit

Berlin planned a weeklong arts festival from 4 to 10 November 2019 and a citywide music festival on 9 November to celebrate the 30th anniversary. [71] [72] On 4 November, outdoor exhibits opened at Alexanderplatz, the Brandenburg Gate, the East Side Gallery, Gethsemane Church, Kurfürstendamm, Schlossplatz, and the former Stasi headquarters in Lichtenberg. [72]

Hertha Berlin commemorated the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall by tearing a fake Berlin Wall in their match against RB Leipzig. [73]


Watch the video: Ντοκιμαντέρ για το Τείχος του Βερολίνου. ΚΝΕ