The fall of the Berlin Wall:
25 years later
On the night of Nov. 9, 1989, thousands of Germans swarmed along both sides of the Berlin Wall - opened under massive public pressure by an East German leadership that realized its days were numbered. Within a year, the East German communists were gone. Germany was a reunited country again.
The ugly, gray wall, which sliced through the heart of Adolf Hitler's former capital, had come to symbolize the division of Europe - one side communist, one side free.
The communists built the Wall to keep their people from fleeing the Soviet bloc. By allowing the Wall to open, the communists acknowledged that they could no longer stem the tide of freedom that would ultimately sweep away the Soviet Union itself by the end of 1991.
With the Wall gone, so was the constant fear of nuclear holocaust that had hung over the world for more than a half century.
The fall of the Wall paved the way for the end of the Cold War, the momentous confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union and their many allies and satellites. The Cold War was only "cold" in the sense that there was no direct combat between the two superpowers. But conflicts involving proxies of the two military blocs - NATO and the Warsaw Pact - were waged across the world and claimed millions of lives.
In the years that have followed, much of the euphoria that surrounded the fall of the Wall has dissipated.
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The Berlin Wall is history, yet barriers to peace remain
t a border camp in the German town of Hof, a stunned Maj. Mark Hertling watched as East met West and the war he spent his young career preparing for was disappearing before his eyes.
“We were there the night the Trabants started coming across the border and a lot of people were confused about what to do,” recalled Hertling, who in November 1989 was an officer with the 1st Armored Division. “I was like holy crap, this is a new age.”
Days later, Hertling was back at his home station in Ansbach, Germany, where he met up with a buddy for beers at a local festival. They reflected on the ramifications of the Berlin Wall’s fall.
“We’re going to be the first generation of soldiers that will get to 20 years without fighting a war other than the Cold War,” Hertling told his buddy at the time. “The Soviets are dead. The Cold War is over. There’s no one to fight. Peace is going to break out the world over.”
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TRAVEL | WHERE THE PAST STILL STANDS
Nov. 9, 2014, will mark the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
On that evening in 1989, a chance remark by a midlevel East German government bureaucrat sent first a score, then hundreds, of people to the Wall’s east-west border crossings.
Spokesman Günter Schabowski announced that the government had passed a regulation that would allow East Germans to travel to the West.
It was a lonely outpost on a chilling border that could go hot at any time.
On a hillside observation tower overlooking East German fields, a small band of U.S. Army soldiers would keep watch across a tall wire fence that was a part of the Iron Curtain.
Across from them, East German border police in a similar tower watched over the inhumane death strip with guard dogs and fragmentation mines meant to keep their fellow citizens from escaping. And they would train their binoculars on the Americans at Observation Point Alpha.
VIDEO | THE BERLIN WALL: OVER THE YEARS
YOUR STORY | CLICK ON THE PICTURES TO SEE TALES FROM OUR READERS
MAP | BERLIN THEN AND NOW
FEATURE | TWO MUSEUMS SHOW DIFFERENCES IN EAST, WEST PERSPECTIVE
The Berlin Wall had fallen. The Iron Curtain that once divided Europe had been raised. The Cold War was over.
It was 1994, and time for the Allies — the United States, United Kingdom and France — and the Russians to leave Berlin.
Forty-nine years after occupying the city at the end of World War II the Allies were gone, and in the years since, most traces of them in what became the capital of a unified Germany have disappeared. Luckily, there is the Allied Museum, a place that traces and remembers their time in Berlin.
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During most of the Cold War, the High Command of the Soviet army in Germany was headquartered in the small East German town of Wünsdorf, about 20 miles south of Berlin.
Had the Cold War gone hot, Soviet troops who would have poured across the Iron Curtain would have been commanded from here.
Some 40,000 Soviet soldiers were stationed in Wünsdorf, some with their families. The town and the base were off-limits to East Germans who lived in the area, and, except for the few who worked there, no locals knew what went on in the restricted area.
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OTHER NEWS | A WORLD OF PERSPECTIVES
One day a new girl entered our classroom. I don’t remember her name, but she must have been 7 or 8, as we were.
I still recall the way she looked: Very fair skin, dark curly hair, a bright red coat that had been fashionable several years ago. She spoke with an unfamiliar dialect and smelled strange.