Die Berliner Mauer came tumbling down 30 years ago today. Building of the Berlin Wall commenced in August of 1961, an ugly scar on the German landscape and a symbol of division in the country.
In total, at least 171 people were killed attempting to get over, under or around the wall. More than 5,000 East Germans successfully managed to cross the border by jumping out of windows of buildings adjacent to the wall or climbing over the barbed wire. Some even attempted to cross in hot air balloons, by ramming through in vehicles at high speeds or by crawling through sewers.
By 1989, it was becoming increasingly clear that the Soviet Union was no longer prepared to support hardline Communist regimes in Eastern Europe.
The Evening of the Fall
Amid this atmosphere of reform, on the evening of Nov. 9, 1989, Gunter Schabowski, an East German government official, made a surprising announcement at a press conference.
“Permanent relocations,” he said, “can be done through all border checkpoints, taking effect immediately.”
This was all the East German populace needed to hear. Citizens flocked to the border en masse sometime around 9:00 pm and found that, after initial confusion, the border guards were indeed letting people cross. It was obvious that the five dozen men guarding the border were grossly outnumbered.
West Berliners greeted their counterparts with music and champagne. Some citizens began to chip away at the physical barrier with sledgehammers and chisels. The crowd began to chant “Tor auf!”—Open the gate! By midnight, the checkpoints were completely overrun.
Over that weekend, more than 2 million people from East Berlin visited West Berlin to participate in the mass celebration.
Today, 30 years after the fall of the wall, Angela Merkel placed flowers at the Wall Memorial with the words: “No wall that keeps people out and restricts freedom is so high …. that it cannot be broken down”.