Photos That Changed History: Tearing Down The Wall

I was browsing through historical events that happened this week and came across a big one. This event was one that many people had hoped to see happen for many years. It marked the beginning of the end of a long conflict between the superpowers of the time and the reconciliation and reunification of a country that had been divided into two parts since the end of the second World War. On November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall came down. This event is one of the most well-remembered events of recent history and is something of a landmark date for those who were old enough to watch it happen.

Now, for those of you who weren’t born before or during the early 1980s, you might wonder why this particular wall coming down was such a big deal. According to History Geek, this wall was built by the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). East Germany called it the “Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart” as part of their propaganda to gather support for the Wall. The Berlin Wall divided the city of Berlin into two parts. On the east was the Soviet bloc. To the west, the American/French/British bloc. Though Berlin was behind the Iron Curtain, it had been divided into quarters as it was the capital of both East and West Germany. The Soviets were determined to gain control of the entire city. However, the Allies were able to hold on to their sections of the city even when the Soviets cut off all land-based access to Berlin.

Throughout the entire Cold War, relations between the Soviets and the West (led by the US) were tense. The Berlin Wall and the death zone around it were a constant reminder that the Cold War was not going to be easily settled by either side. However, in the 1980s, things began to change. The entire world was recovering from the stagflation of the 1970s. The Soviet Union, though, was still scrambling to keep everything under control. Their propaganda campaigns showing the “horrible conditions” in the West instead showed just how far ahead of them the West was. One by one, Soviet bloc countries began to rebel. The then president of the United States, Ronald Reagan, issued a challenge to the leader of the Soviet Union. In his speech at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Reagan challenged Gorbachev to “Tear down this wall!” Reagan’s speech set off a series of events that gave the rebels behind the Iron Curtain hope and also chipped away at the Soviets’ control over their populace. Later that same year (1989), the leaders of East Berlin and East Germany were forced to allow their people free access to the West in order to try to keep Eastern Germans from defecting entirely. The wall was opened on November 9, 1989. History Geek says that he saw it happening on television and thought it was pretty cool that all of these people who supposedly hated each other were partying together on top of the Berlin Wall.

In the days that followed, Eastern and Western Germans began dismantling the wall with pickaxes, sledgehammers, regular hammers, anything they could use to tear it down or to create unofficial crossing points. The wall itself is now mostly gone. Only a few sections remain still standing and none of those impede travel.

— da Bird