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The Fall of the Berlin Wall: 25 Years Later

FILE - East German citizens climb the Berlin Wall at the Brandenburg Gate in November 1989 as they celebrate the opening of the East German border

FILE - East German citizens climb the Berlin Wall at the Brandenburg Gate in November 1989 as they celebrate the opening of the East German border

Sunday marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The former East Germany built the wall in 1961 to divide East and West Berlin. For many years, it was a physical sign of the Cold War – when Western countries opposed the Soviet Union and its allies, including East Germany.

But the Berlin Wall was opened on November 9th, 1989. A few years later, the Soviet Union collapsed.

In Germany, big street parties have been organized to mark the anniversary. But in Russia, there is little reaction to the event. The anniversary comes at a time when tensions between East and West are at their highest since the end of the Cold War.

In a garden in the middle of Moscow lies a single piece of the Berlin Wall. A hole has been cut through the middle; out of it, metal butterflies appear - a sign of freedom, says Natalia Samover of the Sakharov Center, which owns the grounds.

“It is a representation of the exceptional beauty of freedom,” she says. “A reminder that freedom also means responsibility for the people to bear. Our understanding of this came a little later.”

On November 9th, 1989, days of protests resulted in crowds gathering on both sides of the Berlin Wall. Border guards were outnumbered, and for the first time since 1961, Berliners from East and West mixed freely.

The 25th anniversary has led people on both sides of the former 'Iron Curtain' to remember the wall. Yury Pivovarov is with the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow. He says Russians look at the fall of the Berlin Wall in two ways.

He says that: “On the one hand, there was the excitement of Perestroika and huge expectations for democratic reforms. On the other hand, another part of the population, Communist Party supporters, regretted it very much. For them it was a signal that the Soviet Union could fall, exactly what happened.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin once described the fall of the Soviet Union as the "greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century."

Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, says there are important differences in the thinking of modern Russians.

“The fall of the Soviet Union (was), unlike the collapse of Communism - those are two different things. The fall of the Soviet Union was seen as a catastrophe by a lot of people. It was not so much the empire that collapsed, but the entire order, the welfare state, the way of life.”

Opinion polls show support for President Putin has risen to 85 percent since Russia took control of Crimea in March. Western powers accuse Russia of sending troops and weapons into eastern Ukraine.

Yury Pivovarov says the 25th anniversary can help people better understand the current dispute between East and West.

At the German embassy in Moscow, a photographic exhibit explores the meaning of the Berlin Wall. Among the artists showing work there is Dmitry Vrubel. He painted one of the most famous graffiti murals on the Berlin Wall. He calls it, "My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love."

Dmitry Vrubel says, during the past 25 years, the wall has been replaced by a new wall in the minds of people, in human history and in politics. For Europe, he says, the Berlin Wall remains an important symbol; it represents a symbolic wall dividing two worlds.

I’m Mario Ritter.


Words in This Story

Cold War - n. a period of conflict between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union in which neither side was directly at war

outnumbered - adj. more than someone or something in number

geopolitical - adj. having to do with the political and economic relations between nations

graffiti - n. pictures or words drawn on public structures usually without permission

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