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The 25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall

Ed Boitano | Jun 30, 2014, 2:11 p.m.

In 1962, a dozen seniors escaped from East Berlin by way of “Der Seniorentunnel,” the Senior Citizens’ Tunnel. Led by an 81-year-old man, the group spent 16 days digging a 160 foot long by 6 foot tall tunnel from a chicken coop to the other side of the wall in West Berlin. The tunnel was tall because the group wanted to walk to freedom with their wives, proudly and unbowed. This is among the amazing stories of escapes from East Berlin to West Berlin, where several thousand people made it safely across the wall. At least 136 others suffered tragic deaths.

Backstory

After the Allied powers’ defeat of Germany in World War II, Germany was divided into two countries, with the West occupied by the United States, Great Britain and France, and the East controlled by the Soviet Union. Berlin, situated in the middle of communist East Germany (GDR), was also divided.

West Berlin became an enclave of a capitalistic democracy, experiencing rapid economic growth and a high standard of living.

In the East, under the thumb of the Soviet Union, the economy dragged and individual freedoms were severely restricted. By 1961, no longer able to tolerate the repressive living conditions, more than 2.5 million East Germans fled to West Berlin. East Germany and East Berlin were losing their labor forces, and desperately needed to stop the mass exodus. The Berlin Wall—coined the “anti-fascist wall”—was erected, preventing East Berliners from fleeing to West Berlin, or even going to their jobs or visiting relatives in the West. The wall stretched more than 100 miles, cutting West Berlin off from East Berlin and the rest of East Germany. A dual inner-wall was built facing the outer wall. The barren strip between was known as “no man’s land” or “the death strip.” Any person found in this stark landscape was shot on sight. On Nov. 9, 1989, following an escalation of massive protests, border crossings were opened. Millions celebrated across Berlin and around the globe. Thousands chipped away at the wall as East and West Berliners embraced each other. Celebrations commenced. German reunification would soon follow.

25 Years Later

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Mahnmal der Mauertoten am Marie-Elisabeth-Lüders-Haus | Memorial for the Berlin Wall victims.

From Nov. 8 to Nov. 9, Berlin will commemorate the 25th anniversary of the “Fall of the Wall” with events and exhibitions, covering the Berlin Wall, the Cold War and the German reunification—events that have radically changed the course of world history. A light installation will follow the wall’s former path over 7.5 miles with 8,000 illuminated helium-filled balloons. The installation will allegedly be visible from outer space, weather permitting. The emotive theme of the event is to focus on the “Fall of the Wall” as a symbol of hope for a world without walls.

Recommended Highlights

Berlin Wall Memorial: The commemoration takes place along a mile-long former border strip, showcasing Central Berlin’s last expanse of the wall. A new permanent exhibition, “25 Years Fall of the Wall,” will be unveiled on Nov. 9.

East Side Gallery: This is the longest remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall, decorated by 118 artists from 21 countries. A must to visit.

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