Twenty five years ago today, the Berlin Wall fell. For 28 years, this most visible manifestation of the Cold War and a symbol of the tug of war between Totalitarianism and Democracy, the two prevailing ideologies of the second half of the twentieth century, cut through the heart of one of Europe’s greatest cities.
The Wall was far more than just a symbol to the world—it was physical proof to the German people on both sides of the divide that their country was no longer one.
After World War II ended in 1945, the four allied nations that were instrumental in defeating Nazi Germany: the United States, France, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union, delineated four administrative sectors in Germany. Although the country remained undivided at that time, over the next 16 years, some 2.5 million of the Russian sector’s best educated people and skilled workers, most of them young, moved permanently to the western sectors.
So, to stop the Russian sector population from voting with its feet and to stem the brain drain, in the early hours of Sunday, August 13th, 1961, the East German police and units of the East German army closed the border separating the Russian sector from the other three. 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 three sectors that comprised West Berlin, including 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.
Almost immediately, attempts to cross the wall to the West began. Some 5,000 tried. Around 200 died in the attempt.
Finally, in 1989, as Communist governments began to collapse across Eastern Europe, 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, celebrating with West Berliners, and jointly began to tear down the Berlin Wall. At zero hour Central European Time, October 3rd, 1990, Germany once again became one country. The German family was reunited.
And the crumbling of the Berlin Wall came to symbolize the avalanche that saw the liberation of millions of people across Eastern Europe.