For nearly 30 years the Berlin Wall stood as a concrete manifestation of the Iron Curtain, preventing citizens in communist East Germany from fleeing to democratic, capitalist West Berlin. On the night of November 9, 1989, however, East German authorities suddenly opened the border crossing, and thousands of jubilant Germans celebrated by dancing on top of the wall and chipping away at it with hammers and chisels. On the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, learn 10 surprising facts about the iconic Cold War symbol.
The Berlin Wall (German: Berliner Mauer) was a barrier that divided Berlin from 1961 to 1989. Constructed by the German Democratic Republic (GDR, East Germany), starting on 13 August 1961, the wall completely cut off (by land) West Berlin from surrounding East Germany and from East Berlin until it was opened in November 1989. Its demolition officially began on 13 June 1990 and was completed in 1992. The barrier included guard towers placed along large concrete walls, which circumscribed a wide area (later known as the “death strip”) that contained anti-vehicle trenches, “fakir beds” and other defenses. The Eastern Bloc claimed that the wall was erected to protect its population from fascist elements conspiring to prevent the “will of the people” in building a socialist state in East Germany. In practice, the Wall served to prevent the massive emigration and defection that had marked East Germany and the communist Eastern Bloc during the post-World War II period.
The fall of the Berlin Wall happened nearly as suddenly as its rise. There had been signs that the Communist bloc was weakening, but the East German Communist leaders insisted that East Germany just needed a moderate change rather than a drastic revolution. East German citizens did not agree.
As Communism began to falter in Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia in 1988 and 1989, new exodus points were opened to East Germans who wanted to flee to the West. Then suddenly, on the evening of November 9, 1989, an announcement made by East German government official Günter Schabowski blundered by stating, “Permanent relocations can be done through all border checkpoints between the GDR (East Germany) into the FRG (West Germany) or West Berlin.”
People were in shock. Were the borders really open? East Germans tentatively approached the border and indeed found that the border guards were letting people cross. Very quickly, the Berlin Wall was inundated with people from both sides. Some began chipping at the Berlin Wall with hammers and chisels. There was an impromptu huge celebration along the Berlin Wall, with people hugging, kissing, singing, cheering, and crying.
The Berlin Wall was eventually chipped away, into smaller pieces (some the size of a coin and others in big slabs). The pieces have become collectibles and are stored in both homes and museums. There is also now a Berlin Wall Memorial at the site.
After the Berlin Wall came down, East and West Germany reunified into a single German state on October 3, 1990.
More than 3 million East Germans escaped to West Germany between 1945 and 1961, most of them through the ‘loophole’ of Berlin, as the GDR gradually strengthened its borders and restricted travel for its citizens. This was nearly a fifth of GDR’s population, and predominantly the youngest, most dynamic and best-educated class.
Moscow was not pleased, and the future Soviet leader Yury Andropov chided the GDR leadership for not being able to “speak the language of the intelligentsia.”
More than 100 people died trying to cross the Berlin Wall.
The Centre for Research on Contemporary History Potsdam and the Berlin Wall Memorial Site and Documentation Center report that at least 138 people were shot dead, suffered fatal accidents or committed suicide after failed escape attempts across the Berlin Wall. Other researchers place the death toll even higher. The first victim was Ida Siekmann, who died on August 22, 1961, after attempting to leap to a West Berlin street below her fourth-floor East Berlin apartment window. The last fatality occurred in March 1989 when a young East German attempting to fly over the wall in a hot air balloon crashed into power lines.
The fall of the Berlin Wall had begun with the building of the Wall in 1961.
However it took about three decades until the Wall was torn down.
Several times people in the Communist countries rised up against the Communist system but they failed.
The victims of the uprisings against the Communist dictatorship in Berlin 1953, Budapest 1956 or Prague 1968 will never been forgotten.
In 1989 the first free labor union was founded in the communist Poland. The end of the communist system had begun.
The Soviet Union could control their satellites yet but with the new leader Gorbatshov their politics changed in 1984.
Gorbatshov’s reforms, Perestroika and Glasnost should renew the stalinistic system in the Soviet Union but not replace the communist system.
The reforms in the Soviet Union also had its effects on the other communist countries, especially in Poland and Hungary.
On August 23, 1989 Hungary opened the iron curtain to Austria.
Months before East German tourists used their chance to escape to Austria from Hungary and in September 1989 more than 13 000 East German escaped via Hungary within three days. It was the first mass exodus of East Germans after the erection of the Berlin Wall in 1961.
Mass demonstrations against the government and the system in East Germany begun at the end of September and took until November 1989.
Erich Honecker, East Germany’s head of state, had to resign on October 18, 1989.
The new governement prepared a new law to lift the travel restrictions for East German citizen.
At 06.53 pm on November 9, 1989 a member of the new East German government was asked at a press conference when the new East German travel law comes into force.
He answered: “Well, as far as I can see, … straightaway, immediately.”
Thousands of East Berliners went to the border crossings. At Bornholmer Strasse the people demanded to open the border and at 10.30 pm the border was opened there.
That moment meant the end of the Berlin Wall.
Soon other border crossing points opened the gates to the West
In that night the deadly border was opened by East Germans peacefully.