Nov. 9, 2014 saw the Berlin Wall crash down, families reunite, and a new era in German history as East meet West. Chancellor Angela Merkel celebrates with German citizens in honoring those killed in the pursuit of freedom.
November 9, 2014, marks 25th anniversary of the Berlin Wall falling and the end of the Cold War.
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The millennial generation doesn’t remember the Cold War as clearly as the generations before—but from 1961 to 1989, the Soviet Union's German Democratic Public was blocked from the rest of Germany by the Berlin Wall. And the Wall personified an iron curtain of policy, splitting a country in half and ripping families apart as the Cold War divided the world into East and West. Crossing the Wall, entering West Germany was not easy and many lives were lost through bullets and mines in an attempt to flee.
Yet through complicated foreign policy and acts, many East Germany citizens circumvented the Soviet mandates. And brought down the Soviet Union regime.
Deutsche-Welle quotes current Chancellor Angel Merkel's Berlin speech on what it was like to be an East German during Cold War.
She notes that November 9, 1989 marked the "day that showed us the yearning for freedom cannot be forever suppressed." Freedom from for not only personal freedom and liberty, but from locking the world into continuous conflict.
"During the course of 1989, more and more East Germans lost their fears of the state's repression and chicanery, and went out on the streets."
Merkel was 35 and working as a physicist during the 1989 protests. "There was no turning back then. It is thanks to their courage that the wall was opened." Recalling the protests and uprising, she continued. "There had been a lot of excitement for weeks. There were tanks that had been on my street since October 7."
Even among many failed attempts, 1989 signaled a yearning change in policy for many international citizens.
On June 3-4,1989, Chinese student protests on Tiananmen Square proved to be disastrous as the government used the military to enforce martial law. Guns fired on the students and tanks crushed the opponents. Riots, open anger, and push backs against government regimes did not guarantee success, so citizen victory over the East German government and policy was incredible to the on-looking West.
U.S. President Ronald Reagan famously requested then-President Gorbachev to “open this Gate” and to “tear down this wall” in 1989. Reagan went on to say “we must strive to reduce arms” in effort of peace. But now Gorbachev believes broken Western promises.
Referring to the crisis in the eastern Ukraine, the former Soviet leader warned that “the world is on the brink of a new Cold War. Some say it has already begun.” At 83, the politician openly accused the West, especially the United States, of not following Eastern Europe cultural and political autonomy and pushing for a more Western cultural approach.
"The events of recent months are the consequences of short-sighted policies … ignoring the interests of partners.”
The BBC expands on the former Soviet Leader’s comments. Mr. Gorbachev claims that the U.S. and the West have fallen into complacent “triumphalism” since the Soviet Union’s fall in 1991. By insisting on only one view of German nationalism, he believes the West may be setting up the dynamics for a new Cold War.
Merkel looks back at the victory and the subsequent changes with a different perspective. Reuters noted that during a speech on Saturday in Berlin’s New National Gallery, the German leader spoke of the need for freedom and self-determination.
"This city wrote history. The human urge for freedom cannot be suppressed forever."
Since reunification, Germany has faced many struggles in redefining ideology, goals, and identity; but this weekend signifies so much more to the citizens. Hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Berlin for Sunday’s celebrations and a 9-mile path of lights illuminated the Wall’s route through central part of the city.
Berlin is healing from the division and honoring the brave souls who died for freedom.
The BBC also reports that the Wall spanned 96 miles, but only a little less than 2 miles remains. And the Bradenburg Gate now stands as a centerpiece to the reunification and perseverance of the German people. Visitors gathered around the remaining wall, reading about the life during the 28-year-split of Germany’s capital.
And a small crowd in the once-split Potsdamer Platz watched footage of East German demonstrators chanting “We are the people.”
On Saturday, Deutsche-Welle identified many of the people celebrating in the country’s capital are foreigners. In fact, Irishman Alan Couser led a tour group of twenty-five men and women, mostly from Belfast, around Germany. In a long weekend of celebration, Couser’s group intends to see the division of Berlin, of how the city simply stopped existing as a whole, broken into pieces, and rejoined in a new era.
The feeling of distance and militarized regime rang true for Anne, who remembers Belfast’s own history. While not her first trip to Germany, she recalls how the landscape made her feel in the 1980s. "At the sight of walls with barbed wire, the towers and the armed border guards, I became filled with trepidation. I couldn't go any further.”
Couser notes that once upon the time “the Reichstag was once the ugliest building in Berlin. As you can see, this is no longer the case.” Memories flit in his mind as the group moves around the city, seeing the now compared to then. He recalls and tells stories about what it was like then.
Traveling along what’s left of the Wall, he describes the former observation deck’s location and how Western Germans were able to see the East through the Gate without being able to communicate with families and loved ones. The group walks beside white memorial crosses set up to honor those killed trying to cross the Wall.
But at Checkpoint Charlie, the group meets up with a large joyful crowd. This isn’t the same Checkpoint Charlie from 25-years-ago. This time, there’s no one marching or monitoring citizens: only documentaries detailing Wall escapee heroics and Soviet military paraphernalia souvenirs for sale, while photographers and television crews set up at the base of the intersection. This time the documentaries may feature those walking along the pathways and reflecting on the history of a city divided.
According to Sunday’s Deutsche-Welle, “the lifting of travel restrictions and the subsequent fall of the Berlin Wall are seen as the catalyst for the reunification of Germany, the implosion of the Soviet Union and thus the destruction of the Iron Curtain.”
Germany’s intolerance of separation and limited freedom brought the end of the Cold War and the Soviet Bloc.
Chancellor Merkel will be joined by Mr. Gorbachev, current German President Joachim Gauck, and former Polish President Lech Walesa in Sunday’s ceremonies. German entertainers Udo Lindenberg and Die Fantastischen Vier will perform alongside British pop star Peter Gabriel. And lanterns will light the sky as people pay respect to those who sacrificed for freedoms Germans now share.
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