Nov. 9 commemorates the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, an event that paved the way for the reunification of Germany.

Thirty years ago thousands of people with axes and hammers knocked down the Berlin Wall in search of freedom, marking a historic and emblematic moment.

The 97-mile physical barrier dividing the German capital between East and West—with its opposing ideologies – quickly collapsed.

This event brought about radical changes in the world, including the defeat of communist regimes in Europe, the fall of the Soviet Union, the peaceful conclusion of a 50-year Cold War, and the terror of communism with all its dark shades.

Why was the wall built?

After the end of the Second World War, the areas occupied by the United States, France, and the United Kingdom united to create a new independent state called the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG), while the Soviet sector was renamed the German Democratic Republic (GDR).

The tension in relations between the two increased to the point that overnight the inhabitants of Berlin woke up to see a real physical barrier, dividing the capital into two parts.

The GDR claimed that the wall was built to protect the population from ‘fascist elements’ conspiring to establish a socialist state in East Germany, but the truth is that it was designed to prevent people migrating to the prosperous FRG, according to ABC.

Along with the wall, the so-called death strip was also created, consisting of a wire fence, alarm systems, automatic weapons, watchtowers, and patrols accompanied by dogs 24 hours a day.

Between 1961 and 1989 more than 5,000 people tried to cross the wall to escape socialism and more than 3,000 were arrested. It is also believed that about 100 people died in attempting to cross over.

Checkpoint Charlie’s Wall Museum tells the most curious stories of how people managed to breach the wall.

Symbolic funeral crosses in honor of the dead on the wall. Jan. 1990 (Wikimedia Commons).
Symbolic funeral crosses in honor of the dead on the wall. Jan. 1990 (Wikimedia Commons).

The fall of the wall

 The fall of the wall was motivated by the opening of borders between Austria and Hungary in May 1989, as more and more Germans traveled to Hungary to seek asylum in the various embassies of the Federal Republic of Germany.

This led to huge demonstrations on Alexanderplatz, which led to the socialist government of the GDR claiming on Nov. 9, 1989, that the passage to the west was allowed.

On the same day, there was a mass exodus. Thousands of people crowded at the checkpoints in order to cross to the other side and no one could stop them.

The next day the first breaches in the wall were opened and the countdown to its fall began.

Once released, families and friends could see each other again after 28 years of forced separation.

Berlin Wall at the Brandenburg Gate on 16 Nov. 1989 (Wikimedia Commons).
Berlin Wall at the Brandenburg Gate on 16 Nov. 1989 (Wikimedia Commons).

 Why would people risk their lives to cross the wall?

When a person lives oppressed and controlled by the state under socialism, it is normal to want to escape in search of basic individual freedoms and guarantees.

While socialism promises equality of opportunity and ‘social justice’, in reality it only brings poverty, hunger and shortages. And this has been proven throughout history, with many governments becoming dictatorships, such as Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea, and China.

In West Germany people enjoyed welfare in the 1960s, technological advances, education, and free trade, and they could travel unrestricted to any country they wanted.

In Socialist East Germany, on the other hand, people did not enjoy these freedoms, as they had a planned, state-controlled economy and they were not allowed to travel anywhere, let alone cross the wall.

They also had to deal with an economic crisis caused by foreign debt and a shortage of foreign exchange, which led to a shortage of products.

Although today the media and history books analyze it from different angles, the truth is that the desire for greater freedoms and reform of the system was what caused the collapse of the wall, a symbol of freedom and rejection of socialism.