Written by Andrea Martin, Media by Jack Wang
On Sunday, November 9, Germany celebrated the 25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall. German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, led the country in a marked event of remembrance and celebration. In a 20-minute speech, Merkel told of the impact of the Berlin Wall and how it held a special meaning for the country of Germany. But before the country could know joy, it first had to experience pain and tragedy. It was on Nov. 9 in 1918 that Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated, “after four terrible years” of World War I. In 1923, it was the date of Hitler’s failed march on the Munich Festhalle. She also described the atrocious treatment of the Jews by the Nazi party in 1938 where synagogues, houses, and businesses were burned to the ground, and thousands of Jews who were detained and/or killed. But finally in 1989, the country of Germany experienced joy and bliss. Merkel noted that it was up to the people of Germany to nurture the memory, preserve democracy, and intervene to prevent injustice.
The event attracted over 100,000 Berliners and tourists. Many wandered around the former “death strip,” which was where the wall once stood running 9 miles long. 7,000 illuminated helium balloons were perched 11.8 feet high on poles, the same height as the wall that kept the city, and nation, divided. Merkel, who was a young scientist in Communist East Berlin, said in a speech that the fall of the wall would mark the remarkable strength and triumph of the human spirit. “The fall of the Berlin Wall showed us that dreams can come true – and that nothing has to stay the way it is, no matter how high the hurdles might seem to be,” said Merkel, who is now 60 and has led united Germany since 2005. “It showed that we have the power to shape our destiny and make things better.” Merkel acknowledged the people of Ukraine, Syria, and Iraq and elsewhere around the world should feel inspired by the tearing down of the wall. “It was a victory of freedom over bondage and it’s a message of faith for today’s, and future, generations that can tear down the walls – the walls of dictators, violence and ideologies.”
History of the Berlin Wall
The Wall fell down on Nov. 9, 1989, after it was built in the early 1960s. While it stood amongst the front of the Cold War, the wall divided East and West Berlin for nearly three decades. Around this time, East Berlin was controlled by the former Soviet Union (now Russia), and the West was controlled by the three former Allies of World War II: the U.S., Britain, and France (The Soviet Union did belong to the Allied Powers, but it soon separated after the end of the war). At the end of World War II, the biggest dilemma that faced the Allied powers was how to handle Germany, and to prevent another catastrophic war. The relationship between the U.S. and the Soviet Union turned sour, as these were the two last remaining powerhouses after the war. An atmosphere of cooperation and respect turned into anger and aggression, and this was seen with the division of Germany, as well as in the city of Berlin. Ultimately, this strict and high-powered rivalry divided Germany into East and West, and turned it into a political battleground for Democracy vs. Communism.
A wild flow of people escaped East Germany, and by 1961 over 2.5 million people had escaped the clutches and influence of the Soviet Union. Feeling desperate, Premier Kruschev gave the East Germany government permission to stop the flow of emigrants, and on August 12th, 1961, trucks of soldiers and construction workers rumbled through the eastern half of Berlin. They dug up the streets, and dug holes to put up concrete posts, and strung barbed wire all across the border of East and West Berlin. Berliners were shocked at what they saw the next morning, and what had once been a fluid border was now rigid.
“Tear down this wall.”
Opposition to the wall spread throughout the world, especially within the United States, who had already had a tense relationship with the Soviet Union. Running under the leadership of President John F. Kennedy, the United States began the challenging of the Berlin Wall in 1963 when J.F.K. visited Berlin. Kennedy was greeted by an enthusiastic and ecstatic crowd who showered him with flowers, rice and torn paper, and it was in this environment that Kennedy gave one of his most famous speeches.
“There are many people in the world who really don’t understand, or say they don’t, what is the great issue between the free world and the Communist world. Let them come to Berlin. There are some who say that communism is the wave of the future. Let them come to Berlin. And there are some who say in Europe and elsewhere we can work with the Communists. Let them come to Berlin. And there are even a few who say that it is true that communism is an evil system, but it permits us to make economic progress. Lass’sie nach Berlin kommen. Let them come to Berlin.” In the same city and same environment, President Ronald Reagan would later address a crowd of Berliners, and disgraced the wall.
Reagan declared, “”There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace.” He then called upon his Soviet counterpart: “Secretary General Gorbachev, if you seek peace–if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe–if you seek liberalization: come here, to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. And in his most famous declaration, Reagan finished his speech with, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” The speeches of JFK and Reagan created a vision for the people of Germany, who had faced oppression. 138 people had lost their lives trying to escape to West Berlin, and even more were captured and placed in jail. At the height of their presidencies, Kennedy and Reagan had both spent time and effort on improving relations with the Soviet Union, many of which had led to tense stand-offs (such as the Cuban Missile Crisis). Reagan and Gorbachev had created an atmosphere of openness, which is the reasoning behind why Reagan challenged Gorbachev to destroy the wall to preserve peace, and allow for freedom. While their speeches are not fully credited with the tearing down of the wall, it has not been denied that the impact the speeches had gave the people of Germany hope for a better future
Here is a video talking about 25th year of fall of Berlin Wall with Alex Staton.