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November 9 1989: 25 years on from the fall of the Berlin Wall

November 9, 2014

Mauerfall, 1989

Axe attack: a man – surrounded by fellow citizens on the Berlin Wall – takes a pickaxe to the symbolic and literal division between the Communist East and West to begin its fall on November 9 1989

So much so was it one of those momentous turning points in world history that when it occurred, even as a child, I pretty much knew what it meant – the reunification of Berlin; the slide to the end of the Soviet Russia-driven Eastern Bloc. Europe would be whole and free once more; Communism was dying and the end of the Cold War was in sight. Yes, on November 9 1989, 25 years ago today, the Berlin Wall figuratively and (began to) literally fall.

Officially named the Antifaschistischer Schutzwall (the Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart), it was supposedly constructed to keep the ‘fascism’ of the West out of Communist Eastern Europe. As so often with Soviet totalitarianism, though, this just came off as a sick joke; it was obviously put up to stop the flow of people who’d been escaping since the end of the Second World War from East to West Berlin (which had been split in two, one side controlled by the Soviets and the other by the West – the Americans and the British). Apparently, before it was built, 3.5 million Berliners had fled from the East to the West. Thus, on August 13 1961, barbed wire marking the border was replaced by a breeze-blocked wall, which in turn was later solidified into great, heaving chunks of interlocking concrete. The wall immediately and, until its fall, would continue to cut off West Berlin from East Berlin and the rest of East Germany, which had always enclosed the city. And, while it stood, it’s estimated up to 200 people died in trying to get over the miles-and-miles-long monolith and escape.

Eventually, however, indeed after an entire generation, things began to change. As the 1980s progressed, the Soviet stranglehold of the Eastern Bloc (the Eastern European nations that had fallen to Soviet control before and following WWII) loosened, constricted as it was by impending economic collapse. Already, the authoritarian governments of both Hungary and Poland had stuttered and, following weeks of protest and civil unrest, East Germany declared on November 9 1989 that its citizens could finally visit West Germany. That was all thousands on either side needed; almost immediately they flocked to the wall, climbed on it, started chipping away and knocking out lumps and eventually pulled down small portions of it. Meanwhile, as families and friends were being reunited, the East German guards simply stood by and looked on. It was one of those all too rare historic, world-changing moments – one that was truly joyful and without bloodshed.

Most important of all, of course, was what followed. The repercussions of the wall’s fall were, first, a seemingly untroubled reunification of Germany on October 3 1990 (the wall itself was actually demolished between summer 1990 and ’92) and then, second, the end of Soviet tyranny across Eastern Europe with the USSR’s dissolution in ’91, thanks to the crumbling of Communist control in Moscow’s Kremlin. To this day, though, and rightly so, the fall of the Berlin Wall on this day 25 years ago remains the defining visual symbol for the end of the Cold War – the day the frost undeniably began to thaw.

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HOVER MOUSE over images for further information

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berlin_wall_1961_a_US_tank_faces_an_east_berlin_tank_across_the_newly_built_wall_(life_magazine)

berlin_wall_1962_children_play_at_building_their_own_wall Mauerbau 1961 - Menschen an der Mauer

Construction of the Berlin Wall, 1961

berlin_wall_a_woman_and_a_child_wave_across_the_wall Waving Over the Berlin Wall

Construction of the Berlin Wall, 1961

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berlin_wall_1989_east_german_guards_look_on_as_a_chunk_of_the_wall_comes_down

Fall of the Berlin Wall

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Opening of the German-German border - Berlin

Berlin Wall memorial

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