On This Day: How the fall of the Berlin Wall helped end the Cold War

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Fall of the Berlin Wall anniversary November 9 1989
Fall of the Berlin Wall anniversary November 9 1989

This article is part of Yahoo's 'On This Day' series

When U.S. president Ronald Reagan stood in front of the Berlin Wall and addressed the leader of the Soviet Union, saying, ‘Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall,’ no one had imagined that it would happen just two years later.

But on this day in November 1989, the hated symbol of communist division collapsed, with people dancing on top of the wall, and chiselling off pieces as souvenirs.

The wall had divided communist East Berlin from West Berlin since 1961 after the city was divided by occupying Allied forces - its fall came amid reforms within the Soviet Union, led by Mikhail Gorbachev.

Watch: Today in History for November 9th

The fall of the wall came after a press conference by East German government spokesperson Guenter Schabowski, who said, `Today, the decision was taken that makes it possible for all citizens to leave the country through East German border crossing points.’

Hans Joachim Friedrichs proclaimed on the news, “This 9 November is a historic day. The GDR has announced that, starting immediately, its borders are open to everyone. The gates in the Wall stand open wide.”

Crowds flocked to the border, and found that the border guards were letting people through.

(GERMANY OUT) Germany / GDR, Berlin. The fall of the wall. People from East and West hugging. 1989 (Photo by Günter Peters/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
The fall of the wall - people from East and West hugging (Photo by Günter Peters/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
(GERMANY OUT) Germany / GDR, Berlin. The fall of the wall. People at the Brandenburg Gate. 13.11.1989 (Photo by Müller-Schneck/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
The fall of the wall. People at the Brandenburg Gate (Photo by Müller-Schneck/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

By 11pm, a commander let guards open the checkpoints and allowed people through without papers.

Crowds flocked through and people opened champagne: by the end of the weekend two million people had crossed the border.

It marked the beginning of the fall of communism in Europe, and paved the way for Germany to reunify a year later.

British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd said: `We have long called for the dismantling of the Wall and still believe it to be a necessary step for the future of East Germany. We look for further reforms in line with popular aspirations in East Germany.'

FILE PHOTO 11NOV89 - East Berlin border guards stand atop the Berlin Wall in front of the Brandeburg Gate in this November 11, 1989 file photo. The 10th anniversary off the
East Berlin border guards stand atop the Berlin Wall in front of the Brandeburg Gate in this November 11, 1989 file photo (Getty)

The wall was built in the Sixties after 2.5 million people emigrated from communist East Germany, including many skilled workers, threatening the communist East German economy.

By the late 80s, it took the form of concrete walls up to 15 feet high with barbed wire, electric fences and gun emplacements, which stretched 28 miles through the centre of Berlin and 75 miles around the outside of the city.

At least 171 people died trying to get through the wall, with 5,000 successfully crossing, including in hot air balloons or by crawling through sewers.

The fall of the Berlin wall signalled the end of the Cold War.

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In the wake of the fall of the Berlin wall, political scientist Francis Fukuyama proclaimed the “end of history”.

He said, ‘"What we are witnessing, is not just the end of the cold war, or a passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalisation of western liberal democracy as the final form of human government."

The wall has lived on in popular culture; David Bowie’s song Heroes was inspired by seeing his producer embracing his lover underneath the machine gun towers of the wall.

Heroes - Bowie’s most frequently downloaded song - has the lyrics, “I can remember/Standing, by the wall/And the guns, shot above our heads/And we kissed, as though nothing could fall.”

Watch: Merkel remembers Berlin wall victims

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