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US News The Fall of the Berlin Wall in Photos: An Accident of History That Changed The World

03:32  18 november  2019
03:32  18 november  2019 Source:   msn.com

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  The Fall of the Berlin Wall in Photos: An Accident of History That Changed The World © New York Times The Fall of the Berlin Wall in Photos: An Accident of History That Changed The World

BERLIN — When Werner Krätschell, an East German pastor and dissident, heard that the Berlin Wall was open, he did not quite believe it. But he grabbed his daughter and her friend and drove to the nearest checkpoint to see for himself.

a group of men riding on the back of a motorcycle: Workers building a section of the wall on Bernauer Strasse in 1961 as police from West Berlin watched. © Agence France-Presse Workers building a section of the wall on Bernauer Strasse in 1961 as police from West Berlin watched. It was the night of Nov. 9, 1989. As their yellow Wartburg advanced unimpeded into what had always been an off-limits security zone, Mr. Krätschell rolled down the window and asked a border guard: “Am I dreaming or is this reality?”

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A mass demonstration against construction of the Berlin Wall on Aug. 16, 1961. © Terry Fincher/Mirrorpix, via Getty Images A mass demonstration against construction of the Berlin Wall on Aug. 16, 1961.

“You are dreaming,” the guard replied.

a group of people posing for a photo: West Berliners tearing down part of the wall as East German guards looked on, on Nov. 11, 1989. © Keith Pannell/Mail on Sunday, via Reuters West Berliners tearing down part of the wall as East German guards looked on, on Nov. 11, 1989. It had long been a dream for East Berliners like Mr. Krätschell to see this towering symbol of unfreedom running like a scar of cement and barbed wire through the heart of their home city ripped open.

a man and a woman standing on a sidewalk: Women talking across a barbed wire fence in August 1961. © Patrice Habans/Paris Match, via Getty Images Women talking across a barbed wire fence in August 1961.

And when it finally became reality, when the Cold War’s most notorious armed border opened overnight, and was torn apart in the days that followed, it was not in the end the result of some carefully crafted geopolitical grand bargain.

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a black and white photo of a city: The wall separated East Berlin, on the left, from West Berlin, on the right. © Dominique Berretty/Gamma-Rapho, via Getty Images The wall separated East Berlin, on the left, from West Berlin, on the right.

It was, at the most basic level at least, the wondrous result of human error, spontaneity and individual courage.

Gallery: Stunning photos from the night the Berlin Wall came tumbling down 30 years ago (BI)

a group of people standing in front of a crowd:     The Berlin Wall came tumbling down on November 9, 1989,    reuniting East and West Germany, and foreshadowing the fall of    the Soviet Union.        It stood for 28 years to separate the two sides of Berlin and    the two sides of Germany.        The night it fell -       by accident - people stormed from East to West Berlin, and      photos from that night show gleeful reunions and celebrations.              Visit      BusinessInsider.com for more stories.          The Berlin Wall was built in 1961 to divide East and West Berlin.    Constructed by the eastern, Soviet-ruled portion of the city, the    wall was meant to keep Western

“It was not predestined,” said Anne Applebaum, the historian and columnist. “It was not a triumph of good over evil. It was basically incompetence — and chance.”

Watch: 30 years since the fall of the Berln Wall (NBC)

In the early evening of that fateful November day, a news conference took a historic turn.

a person walking down a street: A 19-year-old East German police officer, Conrad Schumann, left, just before he jumped into the West, right, on Aug. 15, 1961. © Chronos Media/ullstein bild, via Getty Images A 19-year-old East German police officer, Conrad Schumann, left, just before he jumped into the West, right, on Aug. 15, 1961. Against the backdrop of mass protests and a wave of eastern German refugees that had already fled the country via Hungary and what was then Czechoslovakia, Günter Schabowski, the leader of the East Berlin Communist Party, convened journalists to announce a series of reforms to ease travel restrictions.

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When asked when the new rules would take effect, Mr. Schabowski paused and studied the notes before him with a furrowed brow. Then he stumbled through a partially intelligible answer, declaring, “It takes effect, as far as I know... it is now... immediately.”

It was a mistake. The Politburo had planned nothing of the sort. The idea had been to appease the growing resistance movement with minor adjustments to visa rules — and also to retain the power to deny travel.

a group of people walking in front of a building: East Berliners fled with what they could carry to the West after news of the wall’s construction spread. © Dpa/picture alliance, via Getty Images East Berliners fled with what they could carry to the West after news of the wall’s construction spread. But many took Mr. Schabowski by his word. After West Germany’s main evening news, popular with East Germans who had long stopped trusting their own state-controlled media, effectively declared the wall open, crowds started heading for checkpoints at the Berlin Wall, demanding to cross.

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At one of those checkpoints, a Stasi officer who had always been loyal to the regime, was working the night shift. His name was Lt. Col. Harald Jäger. And his order was to turn people away.

As the crowd grew, the colonel repeatedly called his superiors with updates. But no new orders were forthcoming. At some point he listened in to a call with the ministry, where he overheard one senior official questioning his judgment.

a man and a woman looking at the camera: A woman being helped as she escaped through a tunnel under the wall in 1964. © Fuchs/Hulton Archive, via Getty Images A woman being helped as she escaped through a tunnel under the wall in 1964. “Someone in the ministry asked whether Comrade Jäger was in a position to assess the situation properly or whether he was acting out of fear,” Mr. Jäger recalled years later in an interview with Der Spiegel. “When I heard that, I’d had enough.”

“If you don’t believe me, then just listen!” he shouted down the line, then took the receiver and held it out the window.

Shortly after, Mr. Jäger defied his superiors and opened the crossing, starting a domino effect that eventually hit all checkpoints in Berlin. By midnight, triumphant easterners had climbed on top of the wall in the heart of the city, popping champagne corks and setting off fireworks in celebration.

Not a single shot was fired. And no Soviet tanks appeared.

Watch: Inside a Stasi prison (NBC)

That, said Axel Klausmeier, director of the Berlin Wall Foundation, was perhaps the greatest miracle of that night. “It was a peaceful revolution, the first of its kind,” he said. “They were prepared for everything, except candles and prayers.”

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a group of people walking down the street: West Berliners erecting a memorial for Peter Fechter, who was shot by border guards while attempting to escape over the wall in 1962. © Wieczorek/ullstein bild, via Getty Images West Berliners erecting a memorial for Peter Fechter, who was shot by border guards while attempting to escape over the wall in 1962.

Through its history more than 140 people had died at the Berlin Wall, the vast majority of them trying to escape.

There was Ida Siekmann, 58, who became the first victim on Aug. 22, 1961, just nine days after the wall was finished. She died jumping from her third-floor window after the front of her house on Bernauer Strasse had become became part of the border, the front door filled in with bricks.

Peter Fechter, 18, became the most famous victim a year later. Shot several times in the back as he scaled the wall, he fell back onto the eastern side where he lay for over an hour, shouting for help and bleeding to death, as eastern guards looked on and western cameras whirled.

a vintage photo of a busy city street: American tanks at Checkpoint Charlie on Friedrichstrasse in 1961. © Czechatz/ullstein bild, via Getty Images American tanks at Checkpoint Charlie on Friedrichstrasse in 1961.

The youngest victim was 15-month-old Holger H., who suffocated when his mother tried to quiet him while the truck his family was hiding in was being searched on Jan. 22, 1971. The parents made it across before realizing that their baby was dead.

For the first half of 1989, it was still nearly impossible to get out of East Germany: The last killing at the wall took place in February that year, the last shooting, a close miss, in April.

The Soviets had squashed an East German uprising in June 1953 and suppressed similar rebellions in Hungary in 1956 and Prague in 1968.

a group of people in uniform: West Berliners confronting East German officers at Checkpoint Charlie on the 25th anniversary of the wall in 1986. © Stiebing/ullstein bild, via Getty Images West Berliners confronting East German officers at Checkpoint Charlie on the 25th anniversary of the wall in 1986. In June 1989, just five months before the Berlin Wall fell, the Communist Party of China committed a massacre against democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square.

“They had been shooting people for 40 years,” said Ms. Applebaum, the historian. “No one knew what they would do in 1989.”

But 1989 proved different. In the end, what gave people courage to resist were a series of shocks that had already shaken Soviet Communism to the core.

an old photo of a person: Looking through the wire from the West to East Berlin on Stallschreiberstrasse in 1961. © Jurgen Schadeberg/Getty Images Looking through the wire from the West to East Berlin on Stallschreiberstrasse in 1961. Poland’s successful Solidarity movement, which had culminated in a semi-free election that year, was one. Others included a series of social and political reforms across Soviet-controlled Eastern Europe with which the Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev hoped to preserve — not end — his Communist Party’s control.

And perhaps most important, Ms. Applebaum said, belief in the system had long evaporated.

“The ideology had collapsed and people just didn’t believe in it anymore,” she said.

a person is walking down the street: West Berlin soon after the start of the construction of the wall. © Terry Fincher/Mirrorpix, via Getty Images West Berlin soon after the start of the construction of the wall. That is how the little things that culminated in this historic moment could become big things, said Timothy Garton Ash, professor of European history at Oxford University. But that is sometimes misunderstood.

“We took one of the most non-linear events and turned it into a linear version of history,” said Mr. Garton Ash.

a group of people standing in front of a large crowd of people: Thousands rushed to the wall in the first few days after its opening. © Robert Wallis/Corbis, via Getty Images Thousands rushed to the wall in the first few days after its opening. The fall of the Berlin Wall became the end of history and liberalism the unchallenged model of modernity. Now illiberalism, Chinese-style, is challenging the West.

Complacency is dangerous, said Ms. Applebaum: “The lesson is: Societies that don’t reform, die.”

a group of people standing in front of a car: East Germans celebrating as they entered West Berlin in a Trabant on Nov. 13, 1989. © Christopher Morris/VII East Germans celebrating as they entered West Berlin in a Trabant on Nov. 13, 1989. Mr. Krätschell, the pastor, had been among those demanding reforms and protesting the system with peaceful means. He held dissident meetings in his home and was harassed by the Stasi, East Germany’s fearsome secret police, for years. The churches played an important role in the resistance movement against East Germany’s Communist authorities.

“We knew: All the phone calls were bugged,” said Mr. Krätschell, now 79.

a group of people standing in front of a crowd: Soldiers atop the wall amid celebrations. © Stephen Ferry/Liaison, via Getty Images Soldiers atop the wall amid celebrations. Years later, after reading his own Stasi file, he learned that special commandos had bugged his home, updating the technology whenever he was on holiday with his family.

Soon after Mr. Krätschell, the pastor, had driven across the border on Nov. 9, 1989, a friend of his daughter who was also in the car asked him to pull over. She was 21 and pregnant and had never set foot in the West before.

Bappa Mazumder et al. standing in front of a crowd: The opening of the border crossing at Bernauer Strasse. © Günter Peters/ullstein bild, via Getty Images The opening of the border crossing at Bernauer Strasse. Once Mr. Krätschell had parked, she opened the door, stuck her leg out, and touched the floor with her foot. Then she smiled triumphantly.

“It was like the moon landing,” recalled Mr. Krätschell, “a kind of Neil Armstrong moment.”

a group of people standing outside of a building: The graveyard in Bernauer Strasse, divided by the wall. © Gadewoltz/ullstein bild, via Getty Images The graveyard in Bernauer Strasse, divided by the wall. Later, back in the East, she had called her parents and said, “Guess what, I was in the West.”

Christopher F. Schuetze contributed reporting.

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