Monday, 9 November 2009

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Twenty years ago today the Berlin Wall collapsed bringing an end to the Cold War. I can't believe it's Twenty years as it only seems like yesterday. It's obviously another sign of how old I'm getting; but looking back it was one of the most significant political events of my lifetime.

It's a bit of a cliche, but the Berlin Wall really was the biggest symbol of the ‘Iron Curtain’ and the division between the old Communist East and the Capitalist West.

Growing up in the 80s I thought there would always be this divide in the world. Before the rise of Islamic terrorism, the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc countries of Eastern Europe were the international 'bad guys', the enemy that was the biggest threat to our way of life.

This is why when the Wall fell, it felt like such an historic and revolutionary moment. For years I'd seen images and read about people who had risked their lives trying to escape across the Wall to the West for a better life.

In 1989 everything suddenly changed and it was all so quick! After growing protests and opposition to the East German government, people were suddenly dancing on top of the Wall, smashing it to pieces and celebrating their freedom.

At the time I remember thinking the world would be a much safer place from now on if our former enemies were now collapsing and embracing our political ideals.

Clearly this wasn't the case. The collapse of Communism ended up creating more new challenges and dangers with the effects still being felt today.

Having studied history at university, and particularly the rise of the Cold War, it seems that in the West we may have overrated the threat that the Soviets actually posed.

The regimes of the old Eastern bloc were not as strong as we might have imagined, and one by one the governments of Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and East Germany all collapsed like dominoes!

In 1995 I spent a day in Berlin whilst inter-railing across Europe. It was amazing to be standing outside the Brandenburg Gate, to be beyond the 'Iron Curtain' and so soon after the Wall fell. I promised myself I would visit the city again to see how the city would develop after unification.

I haven't managed it yet, but I will make it back there someday.

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