Berlin Wall opened 30 years ago today

The Berlin Wall separated the city into West and East, and created tense conditions for conflict that lasted for decades. Because Berlin was surrounded by East Germany, the Wall was a kind of dual siege—cruelly isolating both West Berlin and East Germany. An estimated 200 people were killed trying to get across to the other side, to visit friends and family, or to escape from tyranny.

The Wall came to symbolize the metaphysical barrier between freedom and imprisonment, between democracy and authoritarianism, between rule of law and tyranny. It was, also, a driver of injustice. Not only were thousands of people killed for trying to cross it, and millions surveilled and harassed by a police state intended to enforce absolute separation; it created geopolitical conditions that caused people around the world to have to choose between superpower-led alliances.

The Wall accelerated the rise of dictatorial regimes around the world—both those aligned with the Soviet Union and those set up to disrupt the feared domino effect. The threat of nuclear war and the spread of proxy guerrilla wars were both side effects of this division.

On the evening of November 9, 1989, amid a rising tide of protests across Communist-controlled Eastern Europe, the German Democratic Republic announced a provisional policy of unrestricted travel. As word spread, it became clear there was no real appetite to maintain the violent Berlin Wall security regime.

People began flooding to the Wall, then flooding through security barriers, as border guards opened the gates and stood aside. Eventually, people began tearing into the Wall itself, dismantling the instrument of siege warfare that had divided their families, their country, and the world, for a generation.

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