Monday, November 9, 2009

20th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall

Because of the brave decision of my parents, my family fled East Germany in June of 1961, just two months before the wall was build. We watch in horror, when on the morning of August 13, 1961, German soldiers and construction workers brought out the cinder blocks and the barbed wire and cut Berlin in half. According to the borderline that meant, cutting through houses, streets, properties and most of all the subway.

The Berlin Wall became the physical division between West Berlin and East Germany. On the larger scale it was also the symbolic boundary between democracy and Communism during the Cold War.

Just as my family, between 1949 and 1961 2.7 million East Germans had fled to Western Germany, including a considerable numbers of professionals which the home nation found hard to replace. The idea of the wall was to keep the East Germans hemmed in. Before East Germans were still allowed to work in West Berlin and vice versa. Now, that was all stopped overnight. I remember, flying ones into Berlin (the airport is right in the city near the borderline) and while we were going down (still over East Berlin) we could see the gray parts of the city with few light, few cars on the roads and little activities in general.

History behind the Fall of the Wall:

In the late 1980s Russian leader Gorbachev decided to abandon Russia’s satellite states to try and save his crumbling nation, allowing democracy to filter through, as it did in Poland. There were anti-government protests in East Germany and, after some initially stern words by East German leader Honecker which threatened violence, Russia refused to back him and he resigned. The new leader, Egon Krenz, decided against violence and instead ordered a relaxation of travel restrictions to the West in order to try and defuse rising tensions. However, when a politburo member called Schabowski briefed the media on November 9th, 1989 on the swiftly written decree he misinterpreted what it said, announcing that East Germans could freely use all border crossings to "permanently exit" the nation. Word soon spread and people gathered at the border crossings. Although the guards had no orders to do so, they reopened the borders with the rest of Germany, allowing people to cross freely. The wall ceased to function from that day forward, and people were soon chipping away at it, eventually knocking it down. The East German government withered away.

Here are some photos because words can hardly dscribe the picture of what Berlin looked like for more that 28 years:

Just recently, November 3, 2009, the chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, gave a moving speech to the joint session of our congress, thanking the Americans for their role during the cold war and reflecting on the fall of the wall.

It is good to remember historical events. By remembering the past we can learn the lessons and hopefully create a better future where people can live side by side in harmony with each other.

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