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Posts Tagged ‘Soviet Union’

November 9, 1989: The Fall of the Wall

Sightseers view a remaining part of the Berlin Wall.

Berlin Wall Research Topic in ProQuest eLibrary

 

For 28 years, the Berlin Wall stood as a symbol of Communism and the Cold War. Erected in August 1961, the Wall was built to keep East Germans, especially professionals and skilled workers, from defecting to the West.  Those who sought to escape were “shot on sight.”  November 9, 2014 marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Wall.  It was on that night the East German government announced the passing of a law allowing East Germans to travel to the west side of Berlin.  Many made the trip that very night and, within a few days the barrier was gone and along with it the misery and isolation felt by East Berliners.

Berlin had been divided into East and West during the Berlin Blockade (June 1948-May 1949) with the East being under Soviet control. Originally a barbed wire barrier, it was 12-foot high and fortified with concrete by the Soviets and fiercely guarded with guards in machine gun towers.  During its existence, the Berlin Wall saw nearly 5000 people attempt to escape East Germany.  The area surrounding the Wall became known as the “death strip” (Todesstreifen).

The Wall was the focus of two iconic presidential speeches condemning it. Almost two years after the erection of the Wall President John F. Kennedy delivered his “Ich bin ein Berliner” (I am a citizen of Berlin.) speech in June 1963 declaring U.S. support for the people of West Berlin and West Germany. In June 1987, two years from the fall, President Ronald Reagan implored Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.”

Tiring of Communism, Eastern bloc countries began to see reforms.  In opening its border with Austria, Communist Hungary was the first to see transformation.  The Soviet “iron curtain” began to collapse.  The demise of the Berlin Wall was the death knell.  In 1990 Germany was reunified, and the Cold War effectively came to an end.