On another visit to Berlin, I stood at the Berlin Wall, along with others, chiseling away and collecting souvenirs of what amounted to chunks of mortar with gravel and splashes of paint. Did we realize the magnitude of what had just happened?
Here are some facts on the “Anti-Fascist Defense Wall” which the East German government called it:
Total length around West Berlin: 66 miles
Height: almost 12 ft
Wire mesh fencing: 41 miles
Anti-vehicle trenches: 65 miles
Number of watch towers: 302
Persons injured by shooting while trying to escape: around 200
Persons killed at the Berlin Wall: 192
The last person shot and killed while trying to escape: Chris Gueffroy, Feb 8, 1989
Date the Berlin Wall fell: Nov 9, 1989
If Chris Gueffroy had waited nine months, he could have walked through the wall.
The Berlin Wall was more than just concrete and barbed wire. It was the symbol of a divided Europe with an iron curtain, whose own awkward and oppressive weight on its populace finally caused it to collapse. The people said, “Enough.”
The wave of both peaceful and violent protests in Eastern Europe saw many other communist regimes toppled including Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania. We even witnessed the fall of their puppeteer, the Soviet Union.
On Oct 3, 1990, Reunification Day, one noticed the weather map on TV had changed. No more did it show East and West Germany, but Germany as one country again. Finally. Communism had failed and the day had come that many Germans had waited so long for.
Normally, Germans know how to throw a party….ever experience Oktoberfest? However, October 3, 1990 (Reunification Day) was quite different.
On this national holiday, my friend Ingo and I went to a city square in Cologne and just stood around with other Germans. No one was really celebrating as an ominous cloud seemed to loom overhead. West Germans had had 11 months to think about what reunification would literally cost them. And cost them, it did. A special tax was levied on West Germans to rebuild the former East Germany, the “Solidarity Tax,” a 5% deduction from every West German’s paycheck.
It will soon be the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. I contacted Ingo recently and asked him what Germans were thinking now, 30 years later. He said although reunification was necessary, it’s been an economically painful process for many Germans.
Part 4 (the last part) of this series on the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall will be posted next week.
Since 2011, Susan Gleason has taught German online. She has an extensive background in foreign languages.
Traveling internationally since she was eight years old, her travels include Europe, Scandinavia, Estonia, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, the Bahamas, South and Central Americas, and South Africa. Susan studied German in college and graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 1986. In 1985, while still a college student, Susan led a Bible-smuggling operation into Soviet-controlled Estonia. She lived in Germany from 1986-1991, experienced the fall of the Berlin Wall, and had some daring adventures outwitting East Berlin border guards. Susan did post-graduate studies at Universität Würzburg, Universität Bonn, and FAS Germersheim. She worked as an interpreter at the international trade fairs in Cologne, as well as a translator and private tutor.