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20 Years Ago The Wall Came Down

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In the early hours of Sunday, August 13th, 1961, the East German police and units of the East German army closed the border dividing the city of Berlin into 2 sectors. They tore up streets running along the eastern side of the border to make them impassable to vehicles, and installed barbed wire coils and fences around the 3 sectors that comprised West Berlin, as well as along the 43 kilometers which split the city and its population in half.

Over time, they would replace the wire with a concrete wall 3.6 meters high and 1.2 meters wide; a nearly literal iron curtain that, for the 28 years of its existence, would be the most visible symbol of the Cold War. On November 9th we mark the 20th anniversary of its demise.

After World War II ended in 1945, the 4 nations that were instrumental in defeating Nazi Germany, the United States, France, the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union split the country into 4 administrative sectors. The 3 Western powers merged their sectors into one entity, the Federal Republic of Germany, and invested heavily in its infrastructure and economy, to quickly make it self-sufficient.

The situation in the Soviet zone was different. Life in what soon became the German Democratic Republic barely showed improvement over the war years. And thus, by 1961, 3.5 million East Germans, many of them the country's best educated, left for West Germany. To stop this exodus, the East Bloc countries closed their Western borders.

In 1989, Communist governments collapsed across Eastern Europe, and on November 9, under pressure from its restive population, the East German government partially opened the border in Berlin. A flood of East Germans rushed to West Berlin, and following celebrations up and down its length and especially at its crossing points, the Berlin Wall began to come down.

Eleven months later, East and West Germany reunited into a single country. It was a dramatic moment and one that will forever symbolize the triumph of freedom over tyranny.