November 9, 1989: The fall of the Berlin Wall marks the beginning of the end of the Eastern Bloc

At the end of World War II, the United Kingdom, France, the United States and the Soviet Union occupied and divided Germany and the capital, Berlin, into four zones administered by each, in accordance with the provisions of the Yalta conference of 1945. Despite previous attempts at cooperation at Potsdam, tensions between the Allies did not take long to appear. In 1949, the division of Germany was formalized with the creation of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) to the west, with a capitalist democratic system, and the German Democratic Republic (GDR) to the east, with a single-party communist dictatorship.

As the borders between the two remained open, many GDR citizens, especially young people, migrated to the FRG. To stop the loss of population, in 1961 the communist authorities built, without warning, a wall that prevented the passage between the eastern and western areas of Berlin and that would cross the border between the two Germanys. Thousands of Berliners were separated from their families and friends, and it is estimated that more than two hundred died trying to cross. The Wall thus ended up symbolizing the division of the world into two blocs during the Cold War, a division that became known as the Iron Curtain.

The curtain is torn

In 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev assumed the presidency of the Soviet Union and implemented the policies of glasnost (‘openness’) and perestroika (‘restructuring’), which relaxed Soviet control over the economy and politics. This facilitated the emergence of nationalist and pro-democracy movements throughout the communist bloc, such as the Solidarity union in Poland. In the summer of 1989, citizens of the GDR began to demonstrate every week, demanding democracy and civil rights in the so-called “Monday demonstrations.”

Events such as the “freedom picnic,” in which Hungary opened its border with Austria in August, allowing hundreds of East Germans to cross, exacerbated the protests, to the point that the leader of the GDR, Erich Honecker, protested. was forced to resign in October. His successor, Egon Krenz, failed to calm things down, and on November 4, the largest demonstration in the country’s history took place, with half a million people at Berlin’s Alexanderplatz. Still, no one expected the Wall to fall five days later.

On November 9, the spokesman for the central committee of the Socialist Unity Party of East Germany, Günter Schabowski, made the mistake of announcing during a press conference that citizens would be able to travel to West Germany from that moment on. The mistaken statement also precipitated events: half of East Berlin took to the streets to cross, and the border guards, who had no clear instructions, ended up leaving them. Soon people began to climb the Wall and destroy it with pickaxes and hammers, while West Berliners welcomed them on the other side.

The fall of the Wall, the beginning of the end of the Cold War

After the fall of the Wall, the GDR Government announced that there would be free elections, in which the Alliance for Germany, in favor of the reunification of the two States, won. FRG Chancellor Helmut Kohl was in charge of negotiating with the GDR and the Allied powers of World War II to reach an agreement. Although most Western leaders were pragmatic, not all were initially in favor of a united Germany, such as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, one of the main opponents.

The two Germanys united their economies already in July 1990, and the East changed its currency to the Western mark. On September 12, the Allies and the two German states signed the reunification treaty, which granted sovereignty to the future united Germany, effective October 3. Since then, the country has established itself as one of the most powerful in Europe, but socioeconomic and ideological inequalities between west and east persist.

As a symbol of the division between the communist and capitalist blocs, the fall of the Berlin Wall accelerated the end of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. In the following two years, the various Soviet republics declared themselves independent, and by the end of 1991 the USSR had disintegrated into fifteen republics, an end that was formalized with the Treaty of Belavezha and the resignation of Gorbachev. Thus the Cold War ended, giving way to the expansion of the capitalist system and the global leadership of the United States.