Many will know the history that led to that to this event, but, for those that don't, here is a very potted version.
Following the end of World War II in 1945, Germany was divided up between its four allied captors - the US, the UK, France and Russia. The capital, Berlin, was in the Russian zone. However Berlin itself was also divided up into four zones.
West Germany, or the Federal Republic of Germany as it became known, was looked after by the UK, US and France whereas the Russian zone in East Germany became the German Democratic Republic. The capital of West Germany became Bonn in the Rhineland, whereas the GDR boasted that Berlin was still their capital. Life post-war was very different between the two areas. West Germany began to prosper again under the Allies, whereas the GDR suffered under the Russian Communist regime with little spending on the infrastructure or to repair war damage. Many East Germans voted with their feet and moved to the west. In Berlin alone, 3.6 million fled to the West. To stop this, on 13 August 1961 the Communist government of East Germany built a wall effectively overnight separating East and West Berlin and cutting the Allied part of Berlin off from West Germany. The thick wall was manned with armed guards, tanks and minefields. The Allied area of Berlin became an island in the middle of the GDR reached from West Germany only by air or a patrolled autobahn corridor. Families in East Berlin were trapped and were suddenly cut-off from their relatives or jobs in West Berlin. Any attempt by East Germans to escape met with their being shot or imprisoned. Up to 200 were killed trying to cross the wall into West Berlin and an additional 800 trying to escape from the GDR into West Germany.
Greg and I visited Berlin in 1977. We drove from our home in Cologne to the border between East and West Germany and then through the 2-hour autobahn corridor between West Germany and Berlin. As Greg worked in the media, we were convinced our every move was watched and we literally had the brush-off in a park in a suburb of East Berlin, when two men in uniform deliberately brushed past our shoulders as a warning, while we were taking photos. Entry and exit to both the GDR and to East Berlin itself was closely monitored and papers checked and double-checked with snarly German shepherd dogs in attendance at every turn. It became a way of life! I still have cine footage of East German guards patrolling the Berlin border wall on motorbikes. A live piece of history
In the late 1980s under Gorbachov, things began to mellow a bit with the Soviet block and the introduction of glasnost meant that there was more communication between East and West. The Cold War was slowly melting. Several countries in the Communist block began to change the way they governed their people. Hungary opened its border and people from East Germany began moving to the west through Hungary. In October 1989 mass demonstrations against the government in East Germany began. In November, 1989, the Central Committee of East Germany decided to make it easier for East Germans to pass through the wall. A mistake by the press officer meant the border was opened several hours before it should have been. As a result millions of East German citizens stormed through an opening in the wall. Many collected souvenirs of the wall with chisels and some television stations filmed the now famous footage of people hitting the wall with sledge hammers. The government began demolishing the wall the next day. The fall of the wall destroyed the ruling party of the GDR and caused many of its officials to resign. The GDR ceased to exist and East Germany was reunited with the Federal Republic of Germany on 3 October 1990 (Unity Day or Tag der deutschen Einheit). Berlin became the official capital of the united Germany once again and western civil servants, diplomats and media organisations began moving back to Berlin from Bonn.
By then, Greg and I were living back in the UK in London and Greg was working for the BBC. On Unity Day, Greg was sent over to Berlin with a group of foreign journalists to comment on the official ceremonies. As part of the official information pack given to him, he brought back a paperweight containing a piece of the Berlin wall. We still have it on our coffee table. Set in some sort of synthetic resin, it has deteriorated over the last 30 years but I still keep it on our coffee table. We also have pieces of the wall Greg scrounged on his walks round Berlin afterwards. It was these I was dusting yesterday.....
|The (now disintegrating) paperweight with a small piece of the wall set in the resin|
|The paperweight from the back|
|Piece of Berlin wall taken from the Western side which was highly painted with graffiti|
|Piece of Berlin wall taken from the Eastern side which was plain all the way along - you would never have got that close to put grafitti on it without being shot!|
|Section of the wall from the Eastern side showing its components of concrete and stones|