The beginning of the “greatest street party in the world” actually was based upon an error or a series of them by East German politicians and officials in the aftermath of a series of reforms the government was attempting to implement (Sarotte, web). For 28 years, the Berlin Wall had sealed off East Berlin from West Berlin and stood as a monument to Cold War politics. It appeared to be impenetrable and permanent, as at least 171 people lost their lives attempting to cross the concrete and barbed wire barrier, but President Mikhail Gorbachev had laid the groundwork for the wall to fall four years earlier with his Perestroika and Glasnost reform programs. In response to these reforms and from a growing resistance movement to communist rule in East Germany, the government decided to make some concessions. When it went to announce these reforms on November 9, 1989, its representative, Gunter Schabowski stated that travel between the Berlins would be opened freely as of midnight, which was not the original intention. After German citizens from both sides of the wall flocked there with alcohol beverages in hand, the government, already considerably weakened, decided it would be in their best interests not to rectify their mistake and did not resist (Sarotte, web).
Although more than two million Germans crossed over the boundary of the two Berlins that weekend and swiftly went to work dismantling the wall, the two Germanys were not officially reunited until nearly a year later. Also, the wall was not fully destroyed until 1992 when its last remnants were finally carried away (Harrison, web). Its destruction was not only momentous for Germans but for the international community. What once stood as a reminder that not all people are free, was now a beacon for hope and an icon for freedom for all.
To fully understand the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall, the reasons for its construction must be identified and the basis for its erection was created shortly before World War II came to a close. After the two conferences at Potsdam and Yalta, it was decided the best way to contend with German territory was to separate it and Berlin into areas of occupation by the Allies. What became known as West Germany and West Berlin, were split into three zones controlled by the French, British and Americans, while East Germany and East Berlin were under the control of the Soviets, who had far more troops in place than the other Allies. After the Allies could not come to an agreement, the Soviet Union essentially annexed East Berlin and rather than fight another war, the Allies allowed the Soviets to have their way, especially after the blockade of Berlin in 1948. (Honseler et al, web).
The purpose of the wall was not to bar West Germans from entering Berlin, but to keep East Germans in the country. Between 1949 and 1961, more than 2.5 million East Germans had crossed the boundary line to flee to the West. Many of these individuals were young professionals that sought a better life. In August of 1961, when construction of the wall commenced, roughly 2,000 people were still leaving East Germany. The government was growing desperate and received permission from the Soviet Union to build a barrier that would retain the native population (Honseler et al, web). The wall itself was the brainchild of Erich Honecker and Walter Ulbricht, who were East German political officials, and the concrete structure started to be built on August 13, 1961 in secret (Honseler et al, web).
Although both East and West Germany in addition to the rest of the world, were thrilled at the destruction of the Berlin Wall, the German reaction to it was one of leaving it in the past. According to Harrison, (web) there were several concerted efforts by individuals and organizations to establish some type of memorial at the site or at least leave part of the wall standing. These efforts went unrecognized and largely ignored by the German people who seemed to forget it ever existed until the 15th anniversary of the wall in 2004. One of the primary reasons Harrison feels Germans were less than enthusiastic about memorializing the wall was because so many people had died there. It was easier simply to take no action (Harrison, web).
This position altered drastically when two weeks before the 15th anniversary of the fall of the wall, the head of the Checkpoint Charlie Museum erected 1,065 wooden crosses in the memory of the people who had died along the border between the two Germanys. Entitled as a “Freedom Memorial,” the majority of these stark crosses bear an image of the person killed, their birth and death date and the reason their life was taken from them. After this memorial received international press coverage and many Germans came to witness it, the government and other organizations began to implement actions to memorialize the wall through monuments and research studies. Another concern Germany possessed when it came to remembering the wall was how it would contend with the past atrocities the Nazis had committed and if there was any way to truly get past that without inflicting international ire. Presently, the nation has appeared to handle all these issues and pay proper tribute to one of the events that altered the course of the world, both by its construction and destruction. The Berlin Wall is a testament to a nation that finally regained its freedom after being subjugated for more nearly three decades and will always maintain its significance for future generations of the world’s population.