On this day in 1989 East German officials opened the Berlin Wall, allowing travel from East to West Berlin. Within hours celebrating Germans, nicknamed Mauerspechte (wall woodpeckers) used all manner of tools to chip off souvenirs, demolishing lengthy parts of the wall in the process, opening several unofficial border crossings, and reveling in new-found freedoms and fantastic live television.
Long the starkest symbol of Soviet dominion, as President (Premier) Mikhail Gorbachev continued glasnost and perestroika, the wall’s physical and political fate slowly sealed. Amid growing demonstrative dissent, the longtime leader of East Germany, Erich Honecker, resigned on October 18, 1989 replaced by Egon Krenz. Hungarian officials had opened the border between Hungary and Austria, effectively ending the purpose of the Berlin Wall, and East German citizens could now pour over the iron curtain by going through Hungary, into Austria, and thence into West Germany. In essence, East German citizens began giving their repressive government the finger, often literally.
Unlike 1956 and 1968, when Soviet forces ruthlessly crushed protests in Hungary and Czechoslovakia, respectively, Gorbachev actually encouraged the East German action. As such, the destruction of the Berlin Wall was one of the most stunning acts of the 20th Century, marking the defacto end of the Cold War’s bilateral world and the dawn of a multi-lateral muddle we bravely endure every damn day.
And here the lesson endeth.