Initial Dismantling of the Berlin Wall. Image Source: PHBond.
On this day in 1989, the East German authorities permitted their citizens to freely visit West Germany for the first time since 1961. The Berlin Wall was torn down twenty-one years ago in an atmosphere of tremendous optimism. The Cold War was finally over, and it appeared that the Eastern Bloc 'had lost.' That was how it was spun in the western media.
A Youtube commentary:
"It is the moment in which East Germany collapsed and it did not do so alone. The entire post-war order, the splitting of the world into east and west, into two systems of socialist and capitialist, dissolves this night. It is the historical moment which marks the true end of World War II 44 years after the guns fall silent. There is hardly anyone tonight who does not feel this."
BBC report on the fall of the Berlin Wall. © 1989 BBC. Video Source: Youtube.
Dismantling the Wall at Potsdamer Platz. November 12, 1989. Video Source: Youtube.
The ABC report on the fall of the Berlin Wall is at Youtube (here). The fall of the Wall, then, symbolized the delayed end of World War II and the end of the Cold War. German reunification in 1989 'healed' the country . During the Cold War, Germany's incitement of two world wars and horrific perpetration of the Holocaust overshadowed both halves of the still-occupied country. But the German nation's disastrous twentieth century turn also struck deep in the heart of what was once (and sometimes is still) called 'the West.' Germany betrayed herself, turned herself inside out, and destroyed her own legacy. While other European countries dubiously emerged from their own troubled imperialisms, it was the Holocaust back on the continent, as well as the two world wars, that constituted the real watershed. These were signs that the European tradition had taken a broken path. Something had gone terribly wrong.
Two films at the beginning and the end of the period when the Wall dominated the Cold War consciousness are noted for capturing that feeling - that something had gone wrong across the West. First, the film adaptation of John LeCarré's 1963 novel, The Spy Came in from the Cold, starring Richard Burton and Claire Bloom, featured huge dramatic scenes around the Berlin Wall, which demonstrated what the Wall meant when it was first erected. Bookending that, there is Wim Wenders's famous contemplation of a divided Berlin in the late 1980s, Der Himmel über Berlin (Wings of Desire), with its grey angels who haunt and seek to comfort a haunted, divided city.
The angels follow, then walk through, the Berlin Wall. Der Himmel über Berlin (1988). Video Source: Youtube.
Finding a way back from delusion, from that terrible defeat, from that genocide, that's what the fall of the Berlin Wall represented. It wasn't just a reconciliation for the divided Germans. It was a moment in history that suggested that hope could be rekindled. Of course, it was not so simple. As a result, there's now some nostalgia for the old GDR and that lost Cold War period.
Pink Floyd: A Great Day for Freedom from The Division Bell (1994) © EMI. Reproduced non-commercially under Fair Use. Video Source: Youtube.
Pink Floyd's 1994 song, A Great Day for Freedom, described the heady optimism as the Wall came down, followed by the sobering realization that the optimism could not last: war and ethnic cleansing erupted in the former Yugoslavia from 1991 to 1995.
Pink Floyd: A Great Day for Freedom from the album The Division Bell (1994)
On the day the wall came down
They threw the locks onto the ground
And with glasses high we raised a cry for freedom had arrived
On the day the wall came down
The Ship of Fools had finally ran aground
Promises lit up the night like paper doves in flight
I dreamed you had left my side
No warmth, not even pride remained
And even though you needed me
It was clear that I could not do a thing for you
Now life devalues day by day
As friends and neighbors turn away
And there's a change that, even with regret, cannot be undone
Now frontiers shift like desert sands
While nations wash their bloodied hands
Of loyalty, of history, in shades of grey
I woke to the sound of drums
The music played, the morning sun streamed in
I turned and I looked at you
And all but the bitter residues slipped away...slipped away