Today is the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, which happened on November 9, 1989. Count me among those who never thought that would happen. I always wanted to see East Berlin while the wall was still up, so that I could see modern communism — at least the East German version of it — while it still existed.
I never made it there while the wall was still up. No one (myself included) thought that it would happen so quickly, and it really was an accident of history. Making a long story short, or at least as short as possible:
- In October 1989, longtime East German leader Erich Honecker1 stepped down in favor of Egon Krenz.
- On November 1, 1989, Krenz opened the border with Czechoslovakia, in response to pressure from the East German populace.
- On November 7, 1989, new travel regulations were proposed by the Politburo.
- At a press conference by Günter Schabowski, the party boss in East Berlin (and the spokesman for the Politburo), Schabowski — who had not been properly informed of the regulations — answered questions in a manner that implied that East Germans would be able to travel to West Germany relatively unimpeded.
- The press conference was highlighted by West Berlin television stations (all of which could be received by East German televisions), causing massive numbers of East Germans to gather at the wall.
- The East German border guards at the six Berlin checkpoints became overwhelmed, and opened the checkpoints, causing thousands of people to slip through.
- Many of the East Germans were greeted by their West German counterparts with flowers and champagne.
- People began to climb the wall and started to dismantle it with sledge hammers, with no resistance from the border guards.
And that was it, the accident of history.
After reunification, the East and West Germans were jokingly known as Jammer Ossies (complaining East Germans) and Besser Wessies (West Germans who always thought they know better), and much interesting sociology has been learned by the complicated integration of these two cultures, which were on parallel development for forty-five years.
It makes one wonder when North Korea and South Korea will be reunited. It will happen eventually, but no one knows when.
It’s still complicated in Germany, and most of the neo-Nazi activity there has been generated in the old Eastern region — where the populace never had to come fully to terms with the legacy of the holocaust — but it’s still better than having two countries.
- Technically Honecker was the General Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany, which in practice was the same thing as being the leader of the country.