Monday, August 3, 2009

Celebrating 20 years since fall of the Berlin Wall

(ARA) - For 28 years, the Berlin Wall was a symbol of oppression of freedom and hope. On Nov. 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall fell, not only ending the Cold War, but opening the gates for unity between the East and West.

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the wall coming down, Germany's embassy in the United States is informing college students across the country about this momentous occasion with the Freedom Without Walls program.

Ambassador Klaus Scharioth says that reaching today's university students is critical if the memory of the fall of the wall is to be preserved. "Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the vestiges of the wall remind us that freedom is precious," says Scharioth. "We are proud to support a new generation of future leaders in their effort to discover and to share what the fall of the wall means to them."

The wall was built in 1961 by the communist regime in East Germany. It divided Berlin for 28 years, cutting through the heart of the city, amputating vital traffic links and separating families and friends. Minefields and border police with shoot-to-kill orders thwarted any further attempts by East Germans to look for a better future in the West. While the communists tightened their grip on people's lives in East Berlin, the western part of the city became a walled-in outpost of freedom and democracy.

In 1989, the economic failings of the East German communist regime led people to flee the country via Hungary and Austria. Protesters gathered in Leipzig with calls for democratic reforms and individual rights. Their movement quickly spread to all major cities in East Germany, leading to the resignation of the country's head of state.
The new government announced that East Germans would have their travel restrictions lifted. On the evening of Nov. 9, 1989, a government member was asked in a news conference when the restrictions would be lifted, to which he replied immediately. Less than four hours later, the border was opened and the Berlin Wall was no more.

Peggy Morrison lived in Thuringa, East Germany in 1989 and was 7 when the wall came down. She remembers it well, because she was with her family in the car, waiting in a line of cars to go to the west. "After about four hours we could see the first dump trucks passing us with debris, and we knew right there that it was true -- the Wall had really come down," says Morrison, who now lives in Vienna, Va. "Another two to three hours passed until the cars slowly started to move, and once we passed over to the West we were greeted by thousands of happy, cheerful and excited West Germans, who were welcoming us with open arms."

Since the wall fell in 1989, a unified Germany has emerged as a strong, cohesive democracy that advances progressive politics and sustainable economic development around the world.

To learn more about the fall of the Berlin Wall and what it means 20 years later, check out the German government's Freedom Without Walls program.

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