November Is The Anniversary Of A Reunited Berlin
November 1989 was a very special month, and November 9, 1989 in particular was a day that we Germans will remember for a long time, as will the rest of the world. It was on this day that the East German government announced that they would no longer stand in the way of their citizens who wanted to travel to West Germany, like they had done for over 30 years.
Citizens of both West and East Germany were overjoyed, and rushed to the hated Berlin Wall to make these once-impossible crossings. But for those of you whose German history is a bit rusty, or who can’t remember this historic event, let me present a nutshell version of this darkly fascinating time in our past!
Most people will remember from their old history classes that Germany (and the capital city of Berlin) was divided into partitions after the loss of the Second World War. Each of the four Allied countries — the USA, France, Britain and the USSR — maintained control over one part each.
The trouble began when the Soviet Union tried to consolidate their power and worked against its former allies. Ultimately, they blockaded the city of West Berlin. The Berlin airlift, one of the greatest diplomatic interventions of recent times, followed and brought food and other necessary items into a troubled city.
As East Germany and East Berlin became more and more repressive, naturally, people began fleeing these harsh conditions. The Soviets realized that this “brain drain,” the loss of its best and brightest citizens, could no longer be tolerated. In the early morning of Sunday, August 13, 1961 the border between West and East was closed entirely and the construction of the Wall began.
While the Wall is symbolic of some of the darkest times in our country, it also was a time of great heroism and sacrifice. The dire situation of East Germany led some to risk their lives in order to cross over into the west.
One of the most famous and tragic of these stories is the tale of Peter Fechter. This 18-year-old boy tried to escape with his friend, Helmut Kulbeik in August 1962, by jumping out of the window of a tall building that sat right on the border of the wall, and then running across the “death strip” to scale the Wall on the other side.
While Fechter’s friend managed to evade the bullets of the East German border police, Fechter was not so lucky. He was shot in the pelvis in this “no-man’s land” between the two borders. Even though his shooting was witnessed by many bystanders in the West, no one could help him, for fear that they themselves could also be shot by entering the death strip.
And so, the tragic life of Peter Fechter ended with him slowly bleeding to death, screaming for help in plain sight of both Western and Eastern German guards who both could not and did not haid him. He died one hour later.
The cruelty of Fechter’s death was a wake-up call to the rest of the world, who could see clearly now just how repressive the East had become. It would take another 37 years for the Wall to come tumbling down.
While most of the Wall was dismantled during the months following this time, there are still sections of it remaining, left as a memorial. When you visit Berlin, be sure to take a walk along the last remaining segments, like the East Side Gallery at Mühlenstraße, or the more authentic Berlin Wall Memorial at Bernauer Straße to see for yourself where freedom triumphed.
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