Wednesday, November 09, 2011

On the Fall of the Berlin Wall Twenty-Two Years Later

Today, November 9, 2011, marks the 22nd anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. On this date in 1989, the announcement that travel restrictions between East and West Germany would be lifted. President Ronald Reagan demanded of Soviet leader Gorbachev to "tear down this wall" during an earlier trip to West Germany.

German reunification happened less than a year after the announcement. Today the President of Germany, Angela Merkel, is one who was raised in East Germany and remembers the feeling of exhilaration of the announcement.

Merkel, who grew up in East Germany and was one of thousands to cross that night, recalled that "before the joy of freedom came, many people suffered."

The wall's opening came hours after a botched announcement by a senior communist official on a cold, wet night in 1989.

At the end of a plodding news conference, Politburo spokesman Guenter Schabowski offhandedly said East Germany was lifting restrictions on travel across its border with West Germany.

Pressed on when the regulation would take effect, he looked down at his notes and stammered: "As far as I know, this enters into force ... this is immediately, without delay."

Schabowski has said he didn't know that the change wasn't supposed to be announced until the following morning.

East Berliners streamed toward border crossings. Facing huge crowds and lacking instructions from above, border guards opened the gates — and the wall was on its way into history.

Merkel said she was among the East Germans who, hearing Schabowski's words, thought "something might happen on the evening of Nov. 9." Like many others, she made her way across.

Some thoughts from President Reagan after the announcement was made that the Wall would, in fact, come down:

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