It’s 28 years today since the momentous fall of the Berlin Wall – a moment in which a divided city was reunited with tears of joy and a new chapter was opened in Germany’s history, and the world’s.
The wall was erected by the Communist government of the German Democratic Republic (GDR, or East Germany) in 1961 as a way to keep so-called Western fascists from undermining the socialist state.
The formidable concrete barrier, complete with razor wire and electric fences and booby traps, was constructed with very little warning and many families, friends, and lovers who happened to find themselves on either side of the wall were separated for decades.
The wall – known in East Germany as the Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart – stood until 1989, when the leader of the gradually weakening GDR announced that citizens could cross the border into West Germany and West Berlin.
After the announcement on November 9, excited crowds gathered at the wall to demand to be allowed to cross immediately into the free West, where they were greeted by West Germans with flowers and champagne. In the days following, people from both sides used tools to chip away at the wall to create unofficial border crossings.
It wasn’t until June 1990, however, that East Germany began officially pulling down the wall, allowing free movement through Berlin. The following month, East Germany adopted the West German currency, and border controls ceased completely. By October, East Germany had ceased to exist entirely, replaced by a unified Germany.
But it was those first televised images of people climbing the wall, or being pulled over by those on the other side, that were so touching for viewers around the world. Who could forget the look of sheer determination on the faces of people as they chipped away at the wall, or the joy of those who reconnected with loved ones they had not seen in years?
To this day the fall of the Berlin Wall remains one of the most moving and enduring moments that heralded the end of the long Cold War.