Thirty years ago, the world was experiencing a period of tension and division known as the Cold War.
Nowhere was this division more evident than in Germany. The country was split into West Germany and East Germany, which supported different sides during the Cold War (a rivalry between two different ideologies of capitalism and communism).
Part of their border ran straight through the German capital city of Berlin, splitting it in two as well. A concrete wall stood on the boundary, making travel between the two sides almost impossible. In 1989, however, the residents of Berlin demolished the wall and finally reunified their city.
On November 9th, as we mark the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, let’s remember its causes and effects and the events that led to its destruction.
A Divided City And Country
After the Allies defeated Germany in World War II, they decided to split up the country to prevent it from regaining power. The western part became pro-American West Germany, while the rest became communist East Germany.
Each country received one half of the former capital city of Berlin which was in East German territory. However, West Berlin was more economically prosperous and politically free than East Berlin, so many people from East Berlin started moving to the west.
The leaders of East Germany wanted to prevent people from fleeing the country. So on August 13, 1961, East German police suddenly set up barbed-wire fences on the border to prevent people from getting through. Later, the fences were replaced with a concrete wall 91 miles (155 kilometers) long and about 12 feet (3.6 meters) high. Crossing the border required special permission from the government.
The wall tore apart thousands of families, who were unable to cross the border to see each other. For more than twenty years, residents of both halves of Berlin longed for the day when they would be able to visit their loved ones on the other side of the wall.
The Wall Comes Down
As tensions between the East and West began to die down in the 1980s, calls to remove the wall and checkpoints grew stronger. Ironically, however, the eventual opening of the border happened essentially by accident.
On November 9, 1989, an East German spokesperson was supposed to announce that Easterners would be allowed to cross the border in a few months, but mistakenly said that they would be allowed to do so “immediately”.
Thousands of people flocked to the Berlin Wall, demanding to be let through. The crowds were so large that the guards had no choice but to open the gates. Residents of East and West Berlin rushed to see people on the other side, celebrating the end of their long separation. They broke down the wall with sledgehammers, and today only a few fragments of it remain.
A year after the wall was demolished, East and West Germany reunified to form Germany as we know it today. However, the effects of the division still remain. The eastern part of Germany has more economic problems and an older population than the west. The two regions also tend to have different views on politics, immigration, and religion.
But wherever they live, Germans are grateful that their country and capital city have been reunited at last.
Sources: VOAnews, Euroactiv, Thoughtco, History.com