Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Wall That Couldn't Stand

On August 12, 1961, East German guards and workers began to erect barbed wire barricades during the night. When Berliners awoke the following morning, they found that they were now living in a divided city, East Berlin and West Berlin, and there was no longer free passage between the two sectors. Families were separated, workers were unable to reach their places of employment, and students could not attend their classes. The barbed wired was eventually reinforced with steel and concrete, and more than 300 watchtowers were built along the border, as well as 65 miles of anti-vehicle ditches, more than 20 concrete bunkers, and the whole works was patrolled by several hundred dogs and more than ten thousand guards. In this no-man's land, it is estimated that almost 200 people were killed trying to escape East Berlin, although one victims' group claims that at least 1,245 people were killed over the course of the Wall's existence. Recently discovered documents prove that the Communist government of the German Democratic Republic gave orders to shoot and kill those who attempted to escape, including children.

In the aftermath of World War II, the Soviet sector of Berlin and Germany found that there were massive emigrations of Germans to the Western sectors. In an attempt to stop the hemorrhaging, the Berlin Blockade nearly resulted in increased military operations between the East and the West during the high tensions of the Cold War, but the Berlin Airlift brought supplies to East Berliners and the Soviets stood down. But the outflow of East Berliners and East Germans continued, and Nikita Khruschev and East Germany's leader, Walter Ulbricht, decided to seal the breach and close off East Berlin from the Western world, and concocted the Wall and made it happen. The city remained divided until 1989.

At that time, the unrest was growing in East Germany, and large demonstrations took place in East Berlin. In August, the border between Hungary and Austria was opened, and East Germans had a new path to the West. In three days in September, some 13,000 East Germans took the Hungarian route to freedom. Communism was crumbling, and freedom for the East Germans would not be denied.

On November 9, 1989, Politburo member G√ľnter Schabowski spoke on television and announced that East Germans would be allowed to travel abroad. The plan was for this to take effect the following day, but Schabowski had been on vacation, and did not receive a full briefing. When a reporter asked when this would be possible, Schabowski said, "Immediately." In a matter of minutes, crowds had gathered at the border wanting to cross, and to avoid violence, the East German border guards allowed the people to pass. The celebration began in both East and West Berlin, as their city became, for all intents and purposes, reunited.

With the opening of the checkpoint gates, people gathered at the wall with sledgehammers and pickaxes and began to destroy the wall one piece at a time, chipping off souvenirs and eventually destroying large parts of it. The dismantling of the wall was continued by military units and lasted until November 1991. A few short sections and watchtowers were left standing as memorials. The fall of the Berlin Wall was the beginning of East and West German reunification, and on October 3, 1990, the two countries were formally designated once as again as Germany.

This subject came up recently when Shane reconnected with some friends that were in his group for his trip to Germany. Shane and I sometimes talk of our feelings as we watched on live TV as Germans took sledgehammers to the Wall, and destroyed what had physically and mentally divided them for so many years. The Wall has now become a symbol, an icon of the barriers between countries and ideologies. The Cold War (at least as we knew it) that was so real and so pervasive during our youth is now a memory, and we have moved on to perhaps even greater challenges. When I see pictures or video of the Wall coming down, I believe that any barrier can be broken and that all wounds can be healed, if only we have faith that it can happen and if we work to make it happen. It also reminds me of just how precious our freedom is, and how fortunate we are to live in a free society. On this anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, please take a moment to give thanks for that freedom, and be happy for the families and friends who were divided for decades in Berlin, and were able to once again become one.

Shane will correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe the German at the end of this video reads, "Eventually every wall falls."


  1. I have had this topic on my mind as well! It was a good read, and was glad when it came down!I even said in my last entry "You can break down old walls that seperate people, but put larger ones that are invisible" It was in reference to the 1980's. I hope all is well with you two!


  2. November Rain is a heartbreaker for me too!! AWESOME choice of song!
    You should find a way to write for money. This entry is publishable. What a fine way of had me wanting to read more and more plus i learned something. You write very clearly.
    Look at all those people!!! The man with the bike....the lady waving and jumping with joy. Thank God that wall came down. XOXO

  3. Great song at the end. This was really interesting thanks for puting it out there.
    Be well.

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  5. The Berlin Wall began being erected just before Paul was born. We were stationed in West Germany 1985-1988. Travel to East Berlin was very difficult back then. It was really neat to return in 2004-2006 and see all the change that had happened. To be able to just jump in our car and drive to Berlin was surreal. Most U.S. Army posts in Germany have a piece of the wall, standing as monument for the Cold War. We also own a small piece of that bit of history. This is a good entry, Beth.

  6. Can you believe we actually sold little pieces of the wall in little gift boxes at the store?! And people bought them by the dozens! How's that for capiltalism?

  7. it was a good time when it came down and sad when it went up........lesson the things of man do not last.

  8. I remember watching on the News when the Wall came down, a great post Beth.


  9. I remember whatching all this unfold with Bubba only a baby and hoping it meant he would have a better world to live in. But just as the old threat of communisim retreated the new threat of terrorism was growing and expanding.

  10. How cool that Shane was able to digitize his pictures. Keeping momentos to events such as this are common, just like our "brick". I can not be more specific here incase the brick police are monitoring :o)

  11. That was cool. Made me a little teary. Have you seen "The Lives of Others" about life in East Germany before the wall fell? Very very good.

  12. Wonderfully profoundly written. I had tears in my eyes. The last part written in Germany, "Eventually Every Wall Falls" will stay with me. (Hugs)Indigo

  13. Hi Beth,
    Thanks for the reminder and for the poignant entry. I go to Berlin pretty much once a year and the hotel I stay at is right near the wall. They still have a section of it on display at Potsdammer Platz, right beside the hotel and just a few doors down is ... err ... a Starbucks.

  14. Beth, this was a REALLY good entry!! I didn't know that today was the anniversary of that wall coming down!! I remember when that happened, a very good friend of mine immediately started making plans to bring her aunt (Who'd been behind the wall all those years) over, she hadn't seen her since the wall went up, she was SO EXCITED, crying, and making plans. I was very excited FOR her.



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