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November 9, 1989: The day the Berlin Wall fell

November 9th, 2019 · No Comments · Books, City Library, Events, Main Branch, Uncategorized, West Branch

“It has been shown once again: Freedom is invincible at the end. No wall can permanently withstand the desire for freedom” – German President Christian Wulff at the 50th anniversary ceremony of the building of the wall, Aug. 13 2011.

November 9th marks the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Berlin Wall divided the city of Berlin from 1961 until 1989, separating East and West Berlin. The wall was built by the German Democratic Republic, also known as East Germany, to keep East Germans from defecting into West Berlin, and then escaping out to West Germany. At 96 miles in length, the wall was guarded by police who were given orders to shoot to kill anyone seen escaping west.

Following WWII, Germany was divided into four occupation zones to assist with reconstruction, each controlled by one of the four Allied powers – United States, United Kingdom, France, and the Soviet Union. The capital, Berlin, was also divided into four similar sections, even though it was located in the Soviet occupied Zone. Over the following years, however, the three non-Soviet controlled sections combined as planned, but the Soviet zone remained not only independent, but also refused to agree to the reconstruction plans. This area was ceded into the Soviet Eastern Bloc, which also included Poland, Hungary, and other countries west of Russia. Many Germans living in this section fled west to avoid Soviet rule, enticed by the booming economy in West Germany.

By 1961, around 3.5 million East Germans had emigrated west, almost 20% the population of East Germany. This prompted the German Democratic Republic to build a wall around West Berlin to stem the loss. After the wall was built, around 5,000 people defected west over the next few decades using various methods such as tunnels, hot air balloons, the sewer system, small aircrafts, and a few managed to just drive straight through or under the barriers at checkpoints. Escaping was risky, and it is estimated that around 200 people lost their lives in an attempt to flee the GDR for a better life in the west.

As communism began to fall in neighboring countries in 1989, unrest grew in East Germany and mass demonstrations occurred around Berlin. Erich Honecker, the leader of East Germany, resigned on October 18 1989 as eastern refugees fled west, and on November 9 1989, the new leader of East Germany allowed refugees to exit through border crossings, leading to thousands of East Germans gathering at the six checkpoints at the wall. Overwhelmed and outnumbered, the guards opened the gates and let them leave without checking identification or passports, where they were met by West Germans celebrating on the other side of the wall. Germans from both sides climbed atop the wall, and this date is known as the day the Berlin Wall fell. As of October 3, 1990, Germany was officially unified, and the wall has since been dismantled and can be seen in museums around the world.

Be sure to check out our display of books on the Berlin Wall, along with fragments of the wall itself, on the second floor of the library.

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