“The Wall just fell.”

Photo credit: Gavin Stewart

Photo credit: Gavin Stewart

25 years ago, on November 9, 1989, amid incredible scenes, the Berlin Wall fell. The Library has a display of books and a Pinterest board on the subject, and a trawl through Summon  also discovers some insights into the reactions of people who were there.

Margaret Thatcher , who was in government at the time, complained “I was opposed to German unification from early on for the obvious reasons. To unify Germany would make her the dominant nation in the European community.” She added in aggrieved terms, “unification was accomplished, really, very much without consulting the rest of Europe.”

These concerns were not reflected in the excited atmosphere of Berlin on 9th November 1989.

“The images of East Germans, who were simultaneously joyous, amazed and moved to tears, flocking through the checkpoints at the Wall into West Berlin and then joining West Berliners in celebrating on top of the Wall at the Brandenburg Gate became the iconic images of the end of the Cold War.”

When the Wall was breached, some from the GDR were amazed at the Wall itself, and “shocked when they saw all the elements of the border and realized unmistakably by their layout that they had been directed against East Germans and not against the West”

For Tamara Eidelman, growing  up in the Soviet Union, the event passed almost unnoticed, but “Actually, the guardians of the wall quickly understood that their days were numbered – and not just in Berlin. I heard stories about aged KGB veterans enjoying a cushy retirement who suddenly died the evening of November 9, succumbing to heart attacks or strokes in front of their televisions.”

The Wall was broken; and some entrepreneurs began to make profit from it. Within three months the Wall Street Journal  was reporting “wall-pecking,” in which Berliners broke off chunks to sell to tourists. There was even a market in fakes, whereby bits of masonry were daubed with graffiti and sold to unsuspecting visitors.

This was disastrous for the East German State insurers, Rotunterbett Versicherungs. The Wall had been insured for DM28.4bn, and people were not only climbing it, and hacking it with pickaxes, but carrying it away. The President of the Company, Otto von Czechpoynt, was indignant: “It was a total loss. All those people who made money turning it into ashtrays, paperweights and doorstops. That should have been us. We could have mitigated the loss through ebay sales.”

Businesses in the East were deeply affected by reunification. One of the restructuring professionals found that “When we, professionals from the West, came to do what we could to prepare East Germany for the free market, we were using concepts that a planned economy had kept unspoken for a generation. ..We had to go right back to basics, creating a company agreement stipulating the rules and conditions for the workers there. We also had to lay off staff… Some workers had more rights, some lost their jobs.”

The change was massive, with huge implications. Mitterrand , the President of France at the time, reflected on the sudden upheaval. “It was more convenient to have Germany divided. But there was nothing anyone could do. Not the superpowers. Not the East German military. There was no coup. There was no rioting.

“The wall just fell”.

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If you find it difficult to open the links, the articles quoted are available through the e-library. They are:

Aeppel, T. (1990) “Berlin’s “Wallpeckers” stockpile chunks, search for graffiti to maximize profits.” Wall Street Journal, Eastern Edition, 16 Feb. 1990, pp.A7E

Eidelman, T. (2009) “The fall of the Berlin Wall.” Russian Life, Vol. 52, issue 6, pp. 21 – 22.

Fukuyama, F., et al. (2010) “Twenty years after the end of history.” New Perspectives Quarterly. Vol. 27, issue 1

Harrison, H. M. (2011) “The Berlin Wall after fifty years: introduction.” German Politics & Society, Vol. 29, issue 2, pp. 1 – 7.

“Opinion: lessons learnt from the fall of the Berlin Wall.”(2009) The Lawyer, 9 Nov. 2009.

“RiSKbitz: insurer bemoans fall of Berlin Wall.” Reactions, 9 Nov. 2009.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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