Department of Politics, Languages & International Studies

The Fall of the Berlin Wall - 25 years on

Wed Nov 05 15:38:00 GMT 2014

Man striking a hammer against the Berlin wall

Image © Press Association


Article by Professor Charles Lees.

It is a rare opportunity to be present at a really key historical moment. It is even rarer to be able to grasp the enormity of events as they unfold. But when I and hundreds of other (native or adopted) Berliners partied on the Berlin wall on the night of the 9th of November 1989 it was clear that nothing would be quite the same again.

In a strange kind of way we took all of these cataclysmic events in our stride but what is striking from the perspective of a quarter of a century is how quickly things fell apart in East Germany during that Autumn 25 years ago. Only a few months earlier the Tianammen Square massacre had appeared to demonstrate what might happen in Berlin, Dresden, or Leipzig if East Germans were rash enough to take to the streets. Yet this was exactly what they did in September 1989 and, as the protests escalated and East Germans fled the country through Hungary, it was not clear how it all might end.

There were elements in the East German regime that advocated opening fire on their own people but wiser, or more fatalistic, heads prevailed. Subsequently the beginning of the end of East Germany had an anticlimactic quality when, on 9 November, the hangdog Berlin party boss and de facto spokesperson for the regime, Günter Schabowski, calmly announced freedom of travel with immediate effect. Within hours East Germans were streaming through the Berlin border crossings. There were no shootings and very little drama; just the efficient implementation of an executive order and 40 years of division came to an end.

Read the full article on the Political Studies Association website »

Professor Charles Lees has received funding from the German Academic Exchange Service in London. He is also Chair of the International Association for the Study of German Politics (IASGP).