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Fall of the Berlin Wall

George H Bush

Fall of the Berlin Wall: George H Bush was the 41st American President who served in office from January 20, 1989 to January 20, 2001. One of the important events during his presidency was the Fall of the Berlin Wall.

Definition and Summary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall
Summary and definition:
The Fall of the Berlin Wall was inadvertently sparked by the reform policies of Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev. November 9, 1989 is recognized as the date of the Fall of the Berlin Wall, although the official demolition of wall started on June 13, 1990.

Much of the Berlin Wall was torn down by people as they celebrated the end to a divided Germany. Between November 9, 1989 - June 13, 1989 border controls still existed but were less strict than they had been previously. All border controls ended on July 1, 1990 and Germany was was officially reunified into a single country from October 3, 1990.

When was the Berlin Wall built? The Berlin Wall was built during the Cold War under the instructions of the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in August 1961, during the presidency of John F. Kennedy

Why was the Berlin Wall built? The reason the Berlin Wall was built was to block movement between the Soviet sector and the western sector of Berlin.

What date was the Fall of the Berlin Wall? The date of the Fall of the Berlin Wall was on November 9, 1989, during the Soviet leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev and the presidency of George H Bush.

What did the Fall of the Berlin Wall symbolize? The Berlin Wall stood as a visible symbol of the Cold War division of East from West Germany and of eastern from western Europe. The fall of the Berlin Wall symbolized the fall of communism and the birth of democracy in the Iron Curtain countries.

What caused the Fall of the Berlin Wall?
The economic policies and the military power of the United States and NATO countries during the Cold War effectively bankrupted the countries behind the Iron Curtain and forced the Soviets to back down. The reform policies of Mikhail Gorbachev to stimulate the Soviet economy inadvertently led to the Fall of the Berlin Wall.

  • The policy of Glasnost allowed citizens of the Soviet bloc a greater opportunity to voice discontent with their government.

  • The so-called 'Sinatra Doctrine', alluding to the song "My Way", that allowed the Eastern Bloc governments to make their own decisions.

  • The churches of East Germany began to hold protests against Soviet rule and the Neues Forum (New Forum) group organized mass protest marches in East Berlin demanding democratic reforms within East Germany.

  • Eastern Bloc nations such as Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia were opposing Soviet rule and many of their people were escaping to the west.

Fast Facts about the Berlin Wall
The following fast facts about the Berlin Wall provides background information as to why the fall of the Berlin Wall was so important.

  • Following WW2 the city of Berlin was divided into eastern and western sectors. The city was located 100 miles (160 km) inside Soviet-controlled eastern Germany

  • The Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev wanted to stop the flood of Germans streaming out of Communist East Germany into West Berlin. From 1949 to 1961, about 2.5 million East Germans had fled from East to West Germany

  • The United States, Great Britain and France refused Khrushchev's demands to withdraw from Berlin and he ordered the building of the Berlin Wall.

  • The barrier was first erected on the night of August 12 - 13, 1961, as the result of a decree passed on August 12 by the East German legislature, or parliament, called the People's Chamber (Volkskammer)

  • The barrier, that would become known as the Berlin Wall, was literally thrown up overnight, consisting of barbed wire and cinder blocks.

  • The makeshift barrier was replaced by a series of concrete walls with wire mesh fences up to 15 feet (5 metres) high that stretched for 28 miles (45 km), splitting the city in two.

  • The Berlin Wall was topped with barbed wire and guarded with watchtowers, gun emplacements, dog patrols, anti-vehicle trenches, floodlights, electrified fences and mines. There were a total of 302 watchtowers, 259 dog runs and 20 bunkers

  • The barrier was built with an estimated two million tons of concrete and  700,000 tons of steel.

  • Buildings close to the barriers had their windows bricked up so that people could not jump from them or were demolished. The open area between became known as the "death strip," or "no man's land" from which guards in observation towers could shoot anyone trying to escape.

  • There were 8 border crossings, the most famous was given the nickname of Checkpoint Charlie.

  • There were many thousands of attempts to cross the Berlin Wall of which 6,000 East Germans managed to cross the Berlin Wall safely. At least  5,000 people were captured by East German authorities making the attempt, and 191 people were killed during the actual crossing of the Berlin Wall.

Facts about Fall of the Berlin Wall
The following fact sheet contains interesting facts and information on Fall of the Berlin Wall.

The location of the divided city of Berlin, in the center of Soviet controlled East Germany, led to many controversies, incidents and events leading up to its fall in 1989. The Berlin Wall completely surrounded West Berlin, which was bordered by East German territory on all sides.

The Cold War, between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, was the terrifying period of "non-hostile belligerency" in which several events nearly brought the world to the brink of a nuclear war. The city of Berlin found itself in the center of some of these incidents.

West Germany was founded in 1948 and Josef Stalin mounted the Berlin blockade in an attempt to starve the Western allies out of the capital and abandon the city.

The US and the British responded to the blockade by supplying the western part of the city by air, in what became known as the Berlin Airlift (1 April 1948 12 May 1949), supplying vital necessities to keep West Berlin alive and functioning.

The Berlin Wall was built under the instructions of the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in August 1961, during the presidency of John F. Kennedy who attempted to diffuse the situation in his famous quote "A wall is a hell of a lot better than a war.

The Checkpoint Charlie incident in the city involved a standoff between U.S. and Soviet tanks (October 22, 1961 - October 28, 1961) but ended peacefully as both sides agreed to withdraw their tanks.

In 1963, President John F. Kennedy visited Berlin to reassure the people that the United States would not abandon them in what became known as the 'Ich bin ein Berliner' speech.

In the 1970's 'rapprochement' saw the re-establishment of more cordial relations between the powers.

In 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev took control of the Soviet Union. The Soviet policy of 'Glasnost' followed in the 1980's which encompassed Soviet reforms implemented by Mikhail Gorbachev that encouraged  open debate and allowed a greater opportunity to voice discontent with the government.

12 June, 1987 President Ronald Reagan made his "tear down this wall" speech, speaking in front of the Brandenburg Gate.

Bruce Springsteen played a concert on 19 July, 1988 in East Berlin, 16 months before the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Springsteen concert was allowed in a desperate attempt to pacify East German youth who were increasingly alienated by restrictions imposed by the Communists.

On April 3, 1989 the East German border guards are instructed to "stop using firearms to prevent border violations."

The "Sinatra Doctrine" was another policy adopted by the Soviet government of Mikhail Gorbachev. The name "Sinatra Doctrine", alluding to the song "My Way", was used jokingly to describe its policy of allowing Warsaw Pact countries to determine their own internal affairs, to go their own way. Mikhail Gorbachev had not realized that his change in policies would have such a dramatic effect.

Nations of the Warsaw pact (Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Albania) had maintained a closed border with its western neighbors. But the new Soviet policies allowed them to make radical changes.

Hungary began to allow people free passage to Austria allowing them to escape to the West. Thousands of East Germans began to cross the border every day.

Opposition to Soviet rule began to grow in other Eastern Bloc countries, especially in Poland and Czechoslovakia.

Opposition to the Soviets also grew in the churches and cities of East Germany. What started with small groups ended with peaceful protests and demonstrations by thousands of people who demanded democratic reforms including  freedom of the press, freedom of speech and opinion and freedom of assembly.

A group of students and intellectuals in East Berlin formed a group called New Forum (Neues Forum) demanded democratic reforms within East Germany but Erich Honecker, the unpopular, hard-line communist leader, refused to consider reform as an option.

October 18, 1989 Erich Honecker was replaced by a more liberal communist Egon Krenz, but he was unsuccessful in his attempt to retain the communist regime's grip on power.

Protest marches in East Berlin increased and a pro-freedom rally in East Berlin on November 1, 1989, numbering 500,000 strong, demanded free elections

Egon Krenz responds to the protest by announcing sweeping political and economic reforms and passed a preliminary law giving all citizens travel and emigration rights.

On November 7, 1989, the East German cabinet resigns and nearly all of the members of the Politburo are removed and replaced the following day.

On November 9, 1989 East Germany lifted its travel restrictions to the West. Guenter Schabowski, a member of the Politburo, announced that East German citizens can "leave the country through East German border crossing points," effective immediately.

On November 9, 1989 the Berlin Wall fell. Crowds of jubilant Germans begin to tear down the hated wall piece by piece. Young people scaled the wall and danced on it. Families that had been separated for years ran to embrace each other and the jubilant sounds of laughter and singing filled the city.

Several new crossing points were opened on November 10, 1989 and tens of thousands of people cross over into West Berlin.

East and West Germany was officially reunited under the name the Federal Republic of Germany on October 3, 1990.

In 1991 the Soviet Union Collapse heralded the end of the Cold War.

US American History
1945-1993: Cold War Era

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