Thirty years ago, the wall of Berlin fell, allowing therefore the world to transit from one reality to another. But the wall of Berlin also speaks to all of those that witnessed this moment or heard about it later. The following are some writings and testimonies that reflect various perceptions and understandings that people felt – and still feel – vis-à-vis this key event in the history of the world.
Kevin Ingram, Professor of history, Saint Louis University – Madrid campus
I can’t remember exactly what I was doing when the Berlin Wall was officially demolished in 1990. I do remember following events in late November and early December of the previous year, as the East German communist regime faltered and allowed its citizens to cross to West Berlin. I also remember very clearly the end of the Ceausescu regime in Romania, which came suddenly and violently a few weeks later. There was a sense then that something momentous was taking place. For me, however, the destruction of the Wall was not just a message to communist dictators and their hateful regimes, but also to Western leaders who championed a neoliberal credo. It was a symbol of youthful iconoclasm.
One of my favorite songs of the 1980s was the Style Council’s “Walls Come a Tumbling Down,” which captured this sense of defiance. I’m sure I sang it to myself throughout the fall of 1989 as material and metaphorical walls tumbled.
Juan Diego Mayordomo, Spanish Architect
The Time Machine: Checkpoint Charlie. I entered in the construction booth. I felt observed, I felt suspicious. It does not matter, the time changed from 2D and I entered the German Democratic Republic (GDR). I put the first foot in East Berlin, and I went back in time 50 years. The buildings were naked, without signs, without advertising. There was just the impact from the bullets. There were no cars in sight, the few people I saw were dressed like they were from another time. The day was ugly, there was fog and a silence that was broken with the sound of a vehicle similar to a car but sounded like a motorcycle. I went into the past to explore. East Berlin took me back to the past and checkpoint Charlie and the time machine transported me there.
Jan Lutter, Student, Saint Louis University – Madrid campus
The reunification of Germany was an event that was very significant to the German people. I have heard many stories by my parents, who were living in West Germany at the time, but also visited East Germany frequently. To visit East Germany, they had to take the only road going to and from the western part of Berlin, which was divided into two, east and west, just like Germany itself. Leaving the road would result in massive punishments by the DDR administration, including death. From the stories I have been told, the night of the Fall was a night of celebration. People from all over Germany drove to Berlin in the middle of the night to reunite with families they had not seen in years. My family was luckily not divided by the wall, but I know that I would not have met many of my peers if the wall would still stand today.
Fady Fadel, Dean of the American Business School of Paris, member of the Board of Advisors of the OCC
30 years ago, a new world of values and synergy was resurrected in Europe: this was due to the reunification of Germany and the liberation of the Nations from the Communist anti-democratic Soviet regime.
30 years ago, the youth who destroyed the Berlin Wall happened to be building a new world, therefore; a world of No Walls…
Nevertheless, 30 years on from the fall of the Wall of Berlin, we can also see that while we had one wall destroyed in Berlin, we also had plenty of walls set and reset around the world: USA/Mexico, Israel/Palestine, etc.
What values, and what vision of the world, are we going to transmit to our youth and children now: is it nationalism, racism, xenophobia?
The 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall is inspiring for the reform of the EU and the definition of a new world vision. No national, regional and international policy can be built or rebuilt without taking into consideration individuals, their well being, peoples’ hopes, as well as the youth’s future.
Nothing sustainable can be decided in summits, with bureaucracy, and meeting around round tables. Peoples require now more insurance in terms of peace, security, economics and buying power. Let us not transform their expectations into fear and anxiety.
The 30th anniversary of the new liberal world in Europe is an address first and foremost to populism and the populist leaders around the world: I hope they listen to this message!
Simona Rentea, Program director, Political Science/International Relations, Saint Louis University – Madrid Campus
The opening of the Berlin Wall was the result of an accident with irreversible consequences. At a press conference on the afternoon of 9 November 1989, East German politburo member Günter Schabowski gave a premature and fatidic misreading of the relaxation on the travel ban policy in front of a room full of press. This act led by nightfall to tens of thousands of East Germans clustering around the wall demanding to cross into West Berlin. This 96-mile long heavily guarded border of concrete and barbed wire, which came to be seen as the ultimate symbol of the division between the East and the West, was suddenly flung open, never to be shut again.
I do not remember the night of the 9 November. I only came to learn about its historic importance later on. While Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary and by then East Germany had pulled themselves out from under the curtain, Romania remained firmly under a wall of state propaganda and intense repression until the middle of December, when a bloody revolution erupted on the streets of Timisoara, which quickly spread to Bucharest and the rest of the country. My first memory of the Berlin Wall dates from the 31 December 1989: David Hasselhoff in a fully lit leather jacket singing “I’ve been looking for freedom, I’ve been looking for love” in front of the Brandenburg gate. After weeks of watching bullet-filled dead young bodies, street-by-street confrontations between revolutionaries and regime forces, political mises-en-scene, and the trial and execution of the former dictators -from the world’s first live broadcast revolution-, the images from the Berlin New Year’s Eve party came as a moment of welcome relief and promise of a more hopeful future; Brandenburg as a symbol of freedom, unity and solidarity.
Barah Mikail, Associate Professor, Saint Louis University – Madrid Campus
Talking about the fall of the wall of Berlin is a half-truth; half lies in the fact that people who have been enduring the price and the consequences of Germany’s divisions for decades have wanted to turn the page. In other words, the wall did not – and could not – fall on its own.
The fall of the wall of Berlin also paved the way to the dislocation of the former Soviet Union; but this event was, in itself, an indication that the Cold War would be soon part of the past. Many countries, starting with the US and the Europeans, had been longing for this moment. They worked so hard on it that when it finally happened, they couldn’t believe their eyes. Getting rid of the “Iron Curtain” had ended up being an ideal, a utopia.
Many observers claim that, some ten years later, the 09/11 attacks were as important as the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989. But the reality is that there are significant differences between the two. The fall of the wall of Berlin provoked a profound change in the system of International Relations: it shifted from bipolarity (USA/USSR) to unipolarity (the US as a “superpower”). This conditioned the way the world evolved from the 1990s onwards: and it did so on Washington’s conditions.
09/11 was nothing new: it did not change the nature of the world we lived in. It only reminded us of how strong the US was (for example, the invasion of Iraq and its illegality for International Law), though they happened not to be immune from the attacks of those that were weaker than them.
Almost twenty years after 09/11, the world has changed considerably. We are wondering now whether we will be transiting towards a multipolar world or if we are already living in one. We shall have an answer sooner or later. Meanwhile, the sad reality is that thirty years after the fall of the wall of Berlin, we can find that many countries and communities are claiming that they need to build walls to be protected themselves from “the others”.
Thirty years ago, who would have imagined that this could happen so close in history? It is obvious that we have gone backward since 1989, and this is worrying. Especially at a moment when even democratic systems happen to create situations that fragilize the most vulnerable people…
To quote this article, please use the following reference:
Collective (2019). “The 30th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall ”, Observatory on contemporary crises, November 14, 2019, URL: https://crisesobservatory.es/the-30th-anniversary-of-the-fall-of-the-berlin-wall-special-issue/