Today is the 46th anniversary of the beginning of the Berlin Wall. The post I wrote last year on this topic continues to be popular, day in and day out, but especially when high school curricula get to the Cold War, the Berlin Airlift, the 1960s, and the collapse of the Soviet empire, best exemplified by the destruction of the Berlin Wall itself and the reunification of Germany.
The photograph I used to illustrate that post has become one of the more popular photos of the Berlin Wall on the internet. It is from a small, too-little used collection posted by Corey Hatch at the University of Utah.
Here is another photo from his collection. It comes without caption; from the barbed wire and the uniform and helmet, I would say This is cropped version of a photo of an East German soldier, Conrad Schumann , assigned to shoot people trying to breach the wall to escape to West Germany, who instead decided to leap to freedom himself, probably at Checkpoint Charlie, one of three gates between East and West Berlin. I regret I have no further credit information on the photo on August 15, 1961. The photo is by West German photographer Peter Leibing, then working for Contiepress, in Hamburg.
German authorities announced the Wall was open for travel between the two entities of divided Germany on November 9, 1989. Jubilant Germans on both sides of the wall tore down sections, poked holes in the concrete barriers, and generally vandalized the wall over the next few weeks. Negotiations then led the way for the Reunification of Germany on October 3, 1990.
After the rise of Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev, after 1985 the Soviet Union allowed freedom to come to Poland, and to Germany, and to all of Eastern Europe (the nations “behind the Iron Curtain”) by the simple expedient of refusing to intervene with Soviet troops to stop the actions. The opening of the Berlin Wall was almost accidental: East German authorities asked Soviet officials for help in stemming a flow of immigrants from East Germany to West Germany through other nations that were loosening their own totalitarian governments; Gorbachev simply refused. Without any official making the decision to open the wall, at a press conference an East German official said there would be no Soviet help to close commerce and integration; a reporter asked if that meant the Wall was open, and he replied “yes.”
Liberty came at a high personal price to Gorbachev. A coup attempt against him in August 1991 made it clear that his attempts to reform the old communist system to something more like a free market had failed; various republics that had made up the Soviet Union then began to secede. Ukraine voted to secede on December 1, being one of the biggest of the republics, and even Russia seceded from the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) on December 12. By the last ten days of December, agreements paved the way for a peaceful breakup.
The Soviet Union was declared dead at midnight, December 31, 1991. That is usually given as the date of the end of the Cold War.
Tip of the old scrub brush to Emma, in comments, who graciously provided details of the photo of Conrad Schumann leaping the barrier.