By Steph Ritson
The Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 saw a victory for freedom and the end of the division between West and East Berlin. The fall of the wall ushered in the reunification of Germany ending decades of separation and captivity for the East.
Following the Second World War Germany was split between European world zones. This left East Berlin under Soviet control. The Soviets consequently build the Berlin wall in 1961. The wall was labelled as an ‘anti-fascist protection barrier’ that stretch from the Baltic to Czechoslovakia. However, this barrier furthered the repression and control of the people rather than guaranteeing security and freedom.The Berlin wall was a constant reminder of cold war anxieties, and prevented those in the East escaping to the more prosperous West. Many came to view the wall as the ultimate symbol of the tyrannical regime that denied them of fundamental rights.
By 1989 East Germans were seeking ‘societal renewal’, increasingly oppressed by national bankruptcy and worsening living conditions. The government was worried about this kind of resistance, so reluctantly caved to tensions. The government planned to appease the people by introducing new travel regulations and visas to visit West Germany. These regulations appeared to promise freedom for the people of the East something they had never been promised before. However, under this guise liberal reform was the government’s retention of old national security exceptions which had previously prevented those in the East from leaving. There was no sign that the authorities took the demands of the people seriously or had any intention to open up travels.
The wall did however fall and the travel regulations were carried out.
This was much a bureaucratic accident driven by the will of the people than a planned top down reform. Guenter Schabowski, a member of the Politburo detailed government travel plans in a press conference in 1989 however due to flustered communications Schabowski declared that a form of permanent emigration would come into effect immediately. Thousands of people heard this broadcast and consequently travelled to the checkpoints demanding to leave immediately.
At 11:30pm the willingness of the East Germans to risk a trip to the wall became fruitful as they declared the wall open. These people did not know the uncertainty they were headings towards, this was more worrying as nobody knew what was going to happen faced with such an oppressive dictator, more importantly they did not know if they were going to be shot dead by the guards.
Public courage is therefore what the fall of the Berlin Wall was about. The role of one individual Harald Jäger was notably significant. Jäger worked as passport control on one of the wall’s checkpoints and gave the order for the gate to be lifted helping avoid any harm to the crowd. Jäger himself defied his superiors and created a domino effect throughout all the checkpoints of Berlin, allowing the crowds to reach the West.
This is celebrated as a peaceful revolution, the first of its kind, with the fall of the wall only being possible through the brave fearlessness of the East. On her 2019 visit Angela Merkel drew on her own experience growing up in the East celebrating the achievements made when we ‘stand up courageously for our invisible values’. Therefore the people of East Germany and their peaceful revolution culminated into something big that can be remembered.
This fast became one of the most famous scenes in history leading to subsequent moves for liberation and freedom across Europe. The fall of the Wall by the very people it had contained had an influential role in the collapse of the Soviet regime and the ushering in a of new forms of liberal democracy and hope. In Czechoslovakia Carter 77 led by Vaclav Havel overthrew communism. In Romania Nicolae Ceaușescu fell and the foreign ministers of Hungary and Austria also tore their border. Poland also supported the growth of the Trade Union Solidarity, capturing seats in 1989. Hungry also saw liberalising legislation allowing direct presidential elections and multi-party parliamentary elections. Proving the importance of the people of the East in showing oppression and tyranny had no consent for the people.
Anniversary celebrations confirm that this is not a memorial day but rather a celebration of the freedom and bravery of the people showing that nothing, even the most oppressive systems, can last forever. The people refuse to let this memory be forgotten with celebrations producing historical exhibitions and messages of peace testament to the sacrifices and bravery of their predecessors that guaranteed their own freedom. The Fall of the Wall ultimately proves eventually the people will break through to recover their own freedom against oppression. Therefore the fall of the Berlin wall leads to a a time of reflection on the inspirational achievements of generations before us, in their strive for freedom and peace, something we can all be grateful for.
Mary Sarotte, “How it went down: The little accident that toppled history” The Washington Post
David Wroe “It was the best and worst night”. Al Jazeera America
BBC. 10 November 1999
William Drozdiak “Ten Years After the Fall”. Washington Post
Rachel Loxton “How Berlin is marking the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Wall
Fall of Berlin Wall: How 1989 reshaped the modern world
‘Cut the Iron Curtain’: Germany’s 1989 freedom picnic
John Simpson, How crowds toppled communism’s house of cards in 1989
Katrin Bennhold, The Fall of the Berlin Wall in Photos: An Accident of History That Changed The World
Serge Schmemann, After the Fall: Looking Back on Berlin 30 Years Later
Serge Schmemann, Clamor in the East: Reporter’s Notebook; Legacies by the Wall: Rabbits and Graffiti Bits
Richard Millington, The Fall of the Berlin Wall, History Today, Nov 2014, Vol.64 (11), p.7