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Twenty-Five Years Since the Fall of the Berlin Wall

First, welcome to my new blog. I enjoy writing, and have decided to share my writings with the world via my blog as well as my short stories (and hopefully someday my novels, screenplays, and stage plays).

I feel like starting my blog with a very positive story, so I have decided to write about the twenty-fifth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. So, without further ado, here is the blog post.

Twenty-five years ago, on November 9, 1989, arguably the greatest event in the Cold War occurred: the fall of the Berlin Wall. With the announcement in the waning hours of the night by the German Democratic Republic, what had long been a strongly fought border became a symbol of the willpower and determination of a country. The images showing the stream of people crossing the border—possibly seeing a part of the city they called home for the first time—are now ingrained in everybody's minds. But, what exactly led to the events that transpired on the night of November 9?

At the end of the second World War, Germany was divided into four sectors, among the victorious powers—France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Additionally, Berlin was divided into four sectors, as well. Over time, the three sectors (of both Berlin and Germany) controlled by France, the UK, and the US, merged to form what would be known as West Germany—or, officially, the Bundesrepublik Deutschland (BRD)—while the Soviet sector became East Germany—or, officially, Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR).

The bitterness between the two controlling powers became apparent in the battle over Germany as early as the mid-1950s, when the Soviets instigated the Berlin Blockade. The Soviets, highly interested in taking full control of Berlin, were determined to cut off the western supply lines to the western sectors of Berlin. By blocking the supply trucks and trains, the Soviets had hoped to bring the citizens in the western sectors to their knees and beg for the Soviets' mercy—at which time, they would willingly accept Soviet control of Berlin. However, the western powers had different ideas. They instituted the Berlin Airlift, in which they flew much-needed supplies into Berlin. Due to this uncertainty in the western sectors of Berlin, the eastern sector was able to grow more rapidly.

By the 1960s, however, the western powers were more eager, and able, to build up Berlin as a front-line attack against the communists. With the aid and support of the Marshall Plan, they returned the western sectors of Berlin to the grandeur and glory they held prior to the Second World War. The Soviets, unable or unwilling to restore their sector of Berlin, allowed it to remain in disrepair even fifteen years after the end of the war. Because of this, the prosperity of, and future for, West Berlin became apparent. Thousands of Eastern Germans—not just from Berlin—began streaming through the border gates every day. This resulted in increased strain on the Soviet/East Berlin economy, as it required each citizen to contribute to the national good. With the citizenry depleted by the thousands every day, this meant more work for, or reduced productivity by, the remaining citizens. Either way, this would not be sustainable in the long run.

Finally, detesting the flood of refugees leaving the country daily, the puppet government in East Germany, as dictated by the controlling government in Moscow, decided to build a wall in Berlin. This "wall" was originally a barbed wire fence that was erected in the early morning hours of 13 August 1961. Streets were torn up, inter-city trains were stopped at the border, and all West Berliners were ordered to return to the west. By the time most East Berliners had awakened, they were entrapped in their country by a police presence and a barbed wire fence. Families had been torn apart, lovers split, and businesses cut off from employees. The barbed wire fence would remain until 1965, when the now-ubiquitous concrete wall was erected. However, this wall would be continually upgraded, with it taking its final form in 1980.

Even from the start, East Berliners tried to find ways past the barriers. Some tunneled under the fence/wall, others crashed into the support beams, some just jumped over the barbed wire fence, as in the case of Conrad Schumann, a DDR National People's Army (Nazionale Volksarmee, or "NVA" in German) officer who defected in the early days of the Wall. However, as time went on, the DDR government issued shooting orders, in which border guards were to shoot any defectors. It is estimated that at least 136 people were killed trying to defect, with thousands more arrested.

By the late 1980s, changes began to spread throughout all the Eastern Bloc countries. Although a few movements had occurred prior to the 1980s, such as the Prague Spring in 1968–69, nothing really mounted until Poland's Solidarity movement began political reform throughout the 1980s, with Poland abolishing its communist ties in December 1989; additionally, Hungary abolished its communist ties in October 1989, following another important event in Communist politics, the Pan-European Picnic. With these changes occurring in countries near Germany, the East German population began to take notice.

As described in the book Behind the Wall, written by Paul Gleye, East Germany was still very much a hard-line communist state as late as 1989. Many East Germans were wary of political protests and tried to not break the rules and draw the ire of the government.

However, it was obvious the country had been liberalizing. As the only communist country in which the majority of the population had access to western television and radio signals (due to the western stations in Berlin), East Germany was quickly made aware of the developments in Poland and Hungary. This awareness led to what became known as the "Peaceful Revolution" that began across East Germany, particularly in Leipzig, in September 1989.

With the Hungarian reduction of border controls with Austria in August 1989, many East Germans found an escape route through Hungary until the DDR government disallowed all trips to Hungary. This led to East Germans camping at the West German embassies in Prague and in Hungary. Finally, on 4 November, the Peaceful Revolution reached its height as approximately 500,000 people gathered at Alexanderplatz in East Berlin to demonstrate against the border controls.

After five days' debate, mostly to alleviate the complications that had been created by the revolution, as well as in Prague and Hungary, the DDR government decided to allow travel to West Germany beginning on 10 November. However, because he was improperly informed of the new regulations, in his press conference on 9 November, Günter Schabowski, the party boss in East Berlin, announced the new regulations as having "immediate effect".

Highlights of this press conference were aired on West German television programs that evening. The announcement first appeared on ZDF's heute program and again on Tagesschau on ARD. With the broadcast to West Berlin, the news reached East Berlin. Naturally, the East Berliners began to gather at the checkpoints to see if the news was, in fact, true.

What greeted them at the checkpoints were confused border crossing guards who had no idea what was going on. This began to frustrate the East Germans, who began to protest that the news had not been true. Finally, to appease the demonstrators, the border guards called their superiors who eventually gave in to the populous. At first the guards attempted to check passports, but the borders were quickly overrun by East Germans looking to get a glimpse of the forbidden part of Berlin that had been closed to them for twenty-eight years.

What they found on the other side were West Berliners who welcomed them with open arms, fruit, and hugs and love. The remainder of the night was a huge party as a nation celebrated the unification of east and west… even if it might be for only one night.

Less than one year later, Germany was officially unified and the Soviet Union was beginning to crumble. By the end of 1991, all of the Soviet Bloc countries had declared independence and the "communist experiment" had ended in Europe, unsuccessful.

While it is easy to look back twenty-five years and simply celebrate the events of 1989, especially the night of 9 November 1989, we must never forget that these events would not have been possible without the sacrifice of countless thousands of people, both on the east and the west. Had it not been for the early protesters in the 1950s and 1960s, had it not been for the brave souls who joined Solidarity in the early-1980s, had it not been for those who chose to pack up and go to Prague or Hungary, we would still know the Soviet Union and a divided Germany. Many of those people were very fortunate, but some were quite unfortunate, as well. While we allow ourselves to celebrate the unification of a nation and the ending of communism in Europe, we should always remember the sacrifices that allowed these events to happen.