November 9, 2009 marks 20 years of freedom after the dismantling of the Berlin Wall. East and West Germany were re-unified, and not long after a new era began for the countries of the former Soviet Union.
This photo essay shows both the beginning and the end of the wall:
Why November 9, 1989? The following videos show you the events that led to this date:
Where did the wall come from originally? According to How the Berlin Wall Worked:
Berlin was an especially tender spot, because it was the only gap in the Iron Curtain. People in West Berlin could fly out of the city freely. While the border between East Germany and West Germany was closed, there was nothing to stop East Germans from entering West Berlin and fleeing (or defecting from) communist rule. Huge numbers of them did leave. By 1960, tens of thousands of people were leaving every month. In 1961, more than 200,000 East Germans had defected by summer .
West Germany wasn’t happy to see this number of people leaving the East. Not only did it create an incredible economic strain, it increased tensions between East and West to an unbearable level. It seemed that an outbreak of violence was inevitable — no one knew what to do about the situation. The solution came from the Soviet politburo (the executive committee of the USSR) and Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev. The orders technically were issued by German communist party leader Walter Ulbricht, but he was basically a puppet of the Soviets .
On the night of Aug. 12 and 13 in 1961, the borders between East and West Berlin were closed, along with all the rail stations. Thousands of East German soldiers guarded the border while workers began constructing barbed wire fences. Construction began at about 1 a.m. — streetlights were turned off so no one could see what was happening. The city of Berlin was being walled off, and the residents had no idea it was happening until morning. Neither did Western leaders. President John F. Kennedy was taken completely by surprise.
Easterners who had been trapped inside the Soviet bloc crossed the border like water through a dam that had sprung a leak — first a trickle, then a torrent of people who climbed over the wall and through holes they chipped in the concrete.
On a recent trip to Germany, I drove the perfect car for the occasion, a little two-cylinder 1988 Trabant 601, which was ubiquitous throughout East Germany during Soviet days, a symbol of decrepit East Germany. The car’s hood, roof and fenders were made of cotton, cardboard and glue, powered with an engine like a lawnmower’s.
Not a longing for the Wall, the Soviet occupiers, the secret police, the shootings of demonstrators, the decades of lost promise. But a reaction to the unraveling of the world East Berliners had known. They painted in their minds a memory of a more stable and egalitarian past, where everyone had a job and everyone was poor (except for the party elite). Where families stayed close because travel wasn’t an option. A time where clubs – chess, sports, youth, even nudist – were the places to make friends. Where every smart kid who didn’t mouth off against the government could go to college. Before the raw competition of capitalism swelled the unemployment rolls, split marriages, sent children to work in distant countries, and Western products pushed out familiar if inferior brands.
In August 1989, Hungary dismantled border barriers with Austria. Within days, hordes of Eastern Europeans, including 13,000 East Germans, escaped into Austria. Mass demonstrations against Communist rule erupted across Eastern Europe. To soothe public anger, the Communists opened the gates of the Berlin Wall on November 9. Within days, Berliners had chipped away and broken the Wall, amidst delirious cheering. Soon after, the Communist government fell.
Communists and socialists everywhere, including in India, were dismayed. They could not understand why East Germans blessed with income equality, free social welfare and full employment should flee to the highly unequal West, which bristled with unemployment and social perils. An answer came in a letter to a newspaper editor.
‘‘My daughter’s hamster (a pet white mouse) has food, water, shelter and even medical care, and a cage full of fun curly tubes. The hamster responds by constantly trying to chew his way to freedom. I think we all understand what freedom is, and it is not a gilded cage.’’
“When East Germany joined the Federal Republic of Germany, its infrastructure was completely dilapidated, their state combine companies produced products that were unfit to be sold,” said Michael Huether, the director of the German Economic Institute. “Today the five eastern states can no longer be called an industrial wasteland.”
Today, in 2009, there are two new walls. One in the United States:
And one in Israel:
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