On this date twenty years ago, November 9, 1989, the 28-mile Berlin Wall falls as jubilant crowds gathered, some climbing on top of the wall to break off large pieces. Just two years before in West Berlin, then President Ronald Reagan stated in a speech,”General Secretary 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, tear down this wall.” Over two more years following this speech, the Berlin Wall will be no more.
The Inglorious History of the “Iron Curtain”
On August 13, 1961 barbed wire fencing is constructed together with concrete barriers and the border between East and West Berlin is shut. The Berlin Wall ultimately became a 96-mile long barrier positioned around West Berlin. Just two weeks later, the first recorded breach is tried as 19-year-old border guard Conrad Schumann successfully escapes to West Germany. Gunter Litfin a young tailor’s apprentice is the first person to be shot and killed in an escape attempt on August 24, 1961. During the next years, over 10,000 people attempted escapes with about 5,000 of those succeeding.
In a speech presented at the Berlin Wall on June 26, 1962, President John F. Kennedy says,”There are many people in the world who really do not know, or say they don’t, what is the best issue between the free world and the Communist world. In this same speech he admits,”Ich bin ein Berliner” (I am a Berliner). Finally after months of protracted negotiations, both sides reach an agreement that allow West Berliners to visit relatives in east Berlin. Three years later, negotiations for more access between both sides of the city fail as East German officials order stricter control on the boundary and build additional sections to the wall.
In the seventies and eighties, many important events occur which will finally bring an end to the Berlin Wall and Communism. In 1977, three teenagers are killed during a clash between protesters and East German authorities. Reform escalates through the seventies and culminate in an agreement between the Communist government and striking shipyard workers in Poland. The strike is directed by Lech Walesa who helps to bring about the formation of trade unions, finally leading to the anti-Communist Solidarity movement.
In early 1989, the last remaining parts of the”Iron Curtain” are dismantled as Hungary disables their electric alarm system, cuts through the barbed wire on the Hungarian-Austrian border, and finally reopens the border with East Germany. Three weeks later, 13,000 East Germans escape to the West through Austria. East Germany’s leader, Erich Honecker is forced from office just 38 days later. On November 4, after weeks of demonstrations, one million people gather at a rally in East Berlin. Five days later the Berlin Wall came down.
On December 3, 1989, George H.W. Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev run a shipboard summit at Malta. Afterward, in the press conference, Soviet spokesman Gennady Gerasimov says,”From Yalta to Malta, the cold war ended at 12:45 pm now.” In the next years, Communists in Prague step down, Hungary elects a non-Communist government, Germany unifies, Lech Walesa is elected president in Poland, and the Soviet Union dissolves. Due to the events and efforts of so many people devoted to independence, the Berlin Wall is no more and millions are now able to live free.