On August 13, 1961 East German authorities began construction of what they called the "Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart". In the West their little construction project was dubbed "The Berlin Wall". Built in order to keep their citizens from defecting to West Germany and beyond The Berlin Wall came to symbolize the deep divide between communist East and capitalist Western Europe and seemed like it would be there forever.
In the waning days of the 80s however cracks began to emerge in the armor of the Soviet satellite states in the East. The USSR no longer had the financial ability nor the political will to impose itself militarily on uncooperative Eastern Bloc nations. In August of 1989 Hungary effectively opened it's border with Austria. When East Germans heard of this they fled en masse to Hungary and from there to freedom in the West via Austria. While some attempts were made to stop the flow of East Germans the geenie was out of the bottle and no amount of backpedaling was going to put it back in.
Bowing to increasing pressure from within East Germany's leaders decided on November 9 to allow it's citizens to legally pass through crossing points to the West. This change was supposed to take effect on November 17 to allow officials time to figure out how to handle the expected outflow in a controlled manner, but the announcement was botched by an East German official who stated on the 9th that the changes were to take effect immediately. Upon hearing this thousands of East Germans gathered at various checkpoints demanding to be let through. Confused and overwhelmed border guards had no clue how to handle this human tide and, with no guidance coming from the top, eventually decided the best thing to do was to just open the gates, which they did. It signaled the beginning of the end of East Germany and set in motion events that just two short years later would lead to the collapse of the Soviet Union itself.
Of all the political events that took place during the 1980s the fall of the Berlin Wall was the most dramatic. The West had won the cold war and the people of Eastern Europe were finally free to take back their future.
For the official German website dedicated to the Berlin Wall click here.