09 November 2019 02:42

Berlin Wall The fall of the Berlin Wall Mike Pompeo

The Berlin Wall fell 30 years ago.

The fall of the Berlin Wall has a lot of memorable moments: US President Ronald Reagan's declaration to "tear down this wall"; David Hasselhoff singing at the Brandenburg Gate; and Berliners wielding pickaxes and hammers, tearing apart the visible symbol of a divided Europe. It happened at a routine press conference on November 9, 1989, when East German spokesperson Günter Schabowski was handed an announcement about relaxed travel regulations. In his lack of preparation, he mistakenly insinuated that the checkpoints in the Berlin Wall — which up until then were guarded by soldiers with orders to shoot anyone trying to cross — were now open. They weren't, but that announcement was all East Berliners needed to storm the wall and demand they be allowed to cross into West Berlin. For one thing, the wall was felled peacefully, as the direct result of an East German bureaucrat misreading a memo about loosened travel restrictions.

Massive crowds of East Berliners soon rushed the border, expecting to finally be allowed to travel freely beyond the borders behind the Iron Curtain. East German border guards who had been given no instructions about any change to the "shoot to kill" policy, meant to prevent anyone from escaping East Germany, decided not to kill their fellow citizens. It was a moment that shocked the world and marked the beginning of the end of the Cold War – culminating in the toppling of the East German communist dictatorship, the reunification of Germany in 1990, and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. But the story of "Mauerfall" – how Germans refer to the fall of the Berlin Wall – is much more complicated and fascinating than many recall today. A brief history of postwar East Germany and the Berlin Wall Foto: A large group of East Berlin residents waiting to catch a glimpse of their relatives in the western part of the city stand behind the Berlin Wall in Bernauer Street.

From August 13, 1961, the day of the start of construction, until November 9, 1989, the day the wall fell, the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic were separated by the Iron Curtain.sourcePhoto by dpa/picture alliance via Getty Images In 1961, the GDR was desperately in need of workers to keep its authoritarian communist state functioning, so the government erected a wall to keep its citizens from fleeing to the west. Traveling even to West Berlin or West Germany was extremely rare for East Germans. The Berlin Wall was actually two walls, surrounding West Berlin and separated by a "death strip." As its name implies, East Germans who tried to escape would be summarily shot by GDR border guards. Estimates vary, but well over 300 people are believed to have been killed trying to escape East Germany. The Berlin Wall was a barrier constructed by the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) that cut off West Berlin from East Germany and East Berlin.sourcePhoto by Colin McPherson/Corbis via Getty Images November 9, 1989, was just another morning for the people living under the East German dictatorship Alison Smale, Associated Press bureau chief in Vienna from 1986 to 1998: It was so dull that although I had a seat in the hall to start with, I actually left and went up to the AP's office in the same building – East Germany's center for the foreign press – where I was kidding around with colleagues when Schabowski was suddenly asked about reports that the East German leadership was considering allowing its citizens to leave for the West via designated routes through Berlin and across the East-West German border.

He read that to the stunned reporters, apparently unaware that that timing was supposed to be announced in the early hours of the following day, November 10, presumably after East German leaders had cleared it internally and with Moscow. We filed the reaction, such as it was, watching West German television, which had swiftly sent reporters to the inner German border, and also scattered through Berlin, where Bornholmer Strasse was, where the largest crowds gathered. Foto: West Berliners welcoming East Berliners after the fall of the Berlin Wall.sourceFabrizio Bensch The border guards had no instructions about whether to let East Germans cross to the West, breaching the wall that the guards had been trained to give their lives to defend. In the hours after Schabowski's press conference, thousands of East Berliners rushed to border crossings. After several tense hours being confronted by thousands of East Berliners who believed they now finally had the right to leave, the senior Bornholmer Strasse border guard officer Harald Jäger decided he had two choices: order his guards to open fire on the people, or open the gate.

Foto: Streets were filled with crowds as curious East Berliners visited West Berliners, coming and going through open border crossings in the Berlin Wall.sourceChris Niedenthal/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images Protzman: I went to Checkpoint Charlie and started interviewing East Germans as they came out. After landing in Frankfurt in the early-morning hours of November 10 and boarding the flight for the short trip to West Berlin, I looked around and saw everyone reading newspapers with banner headlines that said "Die Mauer ist offen!/"The Wall is open!" I wondered, is my German not as good as I think it is? Foto: The Berlin Wall the day after the fall.sourceReuters Photographer Huge A&P trucks were camped out at some of the crossing points in the wall giving the East Germans free bananas (not generally available in East Germany) and good coffee (also not generally available there). Tens of thousands of East Germans headed to the KuDamm, the Fifth Avenue of West Berlin. Foto: A portion of the East Side Gallery, one of the few remaining pieces of the Berlin Wall.sourceAdam Berry/Getty Images He was faced with thousands of angry East Germans who had heard the regime spokesman (mistakenly) announce at a press conference that night that the Berlin Wall was open.

Saturday marks the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the barrier that divided West Berlin from East, and enclosed the West from the rest of East Germany. Built by East German officials allied with Soviets, the wall aimed to stop those in East Germany from going to the West and came to represent the ideological differences between the Eastern Bloc and western countries at the time. People who tried to flee from the East after the wall went up faced brutal punishment. However, beginning in the late 1980s, then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev relaxed tensions, and his openness eventually led East Germany to allow Czechs, Poles and others to immigrate to the West through its territory in September 1989. During a Nov. 9, 1989, news conference, German Democratic Republic spokesman Günter Schabowski suggested the border with West Germany would be relaxed. Decades after fall of Berlin Wall, East German towns try to lure back workers In August 1961, the Soviet-backed government in East Germany started putting up razor wire and concrete barriers through the middle of Berlin. Tensions simmered for decades and sometimes flared into violence, especially at Checkpoint Charlie, one of the best-known crossing points between East and West Berlin, says Alexandra Hildebrandt, director of Berlin's Checkpoint Charlie Museum. Hildebrandt says it's tough to think back on 30 years since the Berlin Wall fell and remember all of the people who died trying to escape East Berlin. Many East Berliners made tragic dashes across the wall, trying to escape. Hundreds of people gather Nov. 15, 1989, at the Berlin Wall in front of the huge Brandenburg Gate in the hopes that East German troops would smash their next passage through the barrier at that highly symbolic point. Hildebrandt says West Berliners felt great sympathy for the people who were stuck on the other side of the wall. "Just after the wall was built, every year to the Christmas time was a light to show the people in the East that here nobody forgets," she says. Thousands of young East Berliners crowd atop the Berlin Wall, near the Brandenburg Gate on November 11, 1989. Two days before, Gunter Schabowski, the East Berlin Communist party boss, declared that starting from midnight, East Germans would be free to leave the country, without permission, at any point along the border, including the crossing-points through the Wall in Berlin. And then, on Nov. 9, 1989, an East German official announced that East Berliners could move unhindered across the border.