Fall of the Berlin Wall, 1989
Episode #10 of the course “Most Important Historical Events of the 20th Century”
The Berlin Wall was the symbol of the Cold War. However, it also literally separated people from the west, including preventing them from going to work in western Germany, and it separated families as well.
After World War II, the Allied forces split the defeated German city into two parts. The eastern part of the country was given to the Soviet Union while the western part was controlled by the United States and Great Britain. France eventually took control of the eastern part as well.
After Berlin was divided, the German Democratic Republic in East Germany had a huge problem with refugees leaving the area. Nearly 3 million people left East Germany in a span of about ten years (from 1949 to 1958). Many of them included young skilled workers that were particularly useful to society like engineers, doctors, and teachers. Finally, on August 12, 1961, roughly 2,400 East Germans left. Premier Khrushchev, a Soviet Union leader, granted the East German government permission to close the border to stop this flow of people. Construction on the wall began the next day.
It was built with the idea of keeping the “fascists” out of the area; they were concerned that the fascists would undermine the socialist state in Germany. Nonetheless, its real purpose was to keep defectors in the east from travelling to the west. At least 171 people were killed trying to get over the wall, but nearly 5,000 Germans still managed to cross the border. They jumped out of windows near the wall, climbed over barbed wire, flew in hot air balloons, or crawled through the sewers to get to the other side. Some even drove vehicles through less-fortified parts of the wall.
The Berlin Wall came down in 1989 following an announcement that East Berlin’s Communist Party would change their relationship with the west. Swarms of people crossed to the other side. Others literally attempted to chip away at the wall instead of simply going past it. The destruction of this symbol also marked the end of the Cold War, and some call it the “real end” of World War II.
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