Today marks an important and influential event in European and global history. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 is a defining moment symbolizing not only the path to German reunification, but a genuine psychological end to the Cold War and WWII particularly for the countries of Central and Eastern Europe – who had fallen under Soviet occupation and oppression for almost half-a-century. Many will remember this 25th anniversary with mixed emotions, jubilation, sorrow or uncertainty. Generations were defined by historical events such as this, through a legacy that continues to reverberate decades later as we witness ideological divides return to Europe and elsewhere. I personally recall the joyous images and footage of brave German citizens chipping away at the wall as if to capture the Soviet Union’s slow decay and destruction. A young boy when the wall fell, I remember great joy among my family who had gathered around a small television in our living room. I remember tears of joy and a time when everyone felt that a new era had dawned for our homeland of Hungary and our European brothers and sisters as well. The relief that was felt that day is still hard to describe or reproduce.
The 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall also provides us the opportunity to consider that the wall may have fell, but abhorrent communist regimes still continue to suppress human rights and govern through fear. China, North Korea, Cuba, Laos and others hopefully await their moment when they too can bring down the walls that keep them contained. As with other historical events, one moment can be a stepping stone to larger change. 1989 revealed the weakness of Soviet oppression, but more aptly the power of the human spirit. For me the connection to this human spirit are very much what defines me as a person. My family fought and survived World War II against fascism and communism; sacrificed and survived the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 against communism’s lies, only to emigrate to a new and wonderful life in Canada. 1989 was closure to many.
The scars of the Berlin Wall on Berlin have been speedily covered by Germany’s wealth and success. Tourists can see bits and pieces of the wall, where it stood – even find souvenirs. The real significance of November 9, 1989 will always be on the faces of those families who not only witnessed it, but lived and survived it. Let us not forget what changed that day and how a powerful historical narrative begun with World War II took 50 years to find symbolic resolution. May we celebrate that important victory by never forgetting it.
Here are some great sources for images, videos and background information on the Berlin Wall:
1) TIME Life photos of the Berlin Wall: http://life.time.com/history/berlin-wall-photos-early-days-cold-war-symbol/#1
2) History Today – The Berlin Wall: http://www.historytoday.com/frederick-taylor/berlin-wall-secret-history
3) The Berlin Wall Memorial: http://www.berliner-mauer-gedenkstaette.de/en/visitor-center-560.html
4) City of Berlin page on the Berlin Wall: http://www.berlin.de/mauer/index.en.html
5) New York Times analysis of the events surrounding the fall of the Berlin Wall: http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/subjects/b/berlin_wall/index.html