East Germany decided to topple the Berlin Wall in a smoking break

March 22, 2014 – 05:13 pm

In 1987, speaking at the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin, Ronald Reagan issued a challenge to Mikhail Gorbachev. “If you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalisation, come here to this gate, ” Reagan said. “Mr Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

Reagan’s speech was triumphalist. He knew that communism was on the ropes. Yet Gorbachev did not rise to the challenge and tear down the Berlin Wall. Reagan left office in January 1989 with the most potent symbol of the Cold War still standing. The following month Chris Gueffroy, a 20-year-old East Berliner barred from university for being politically suspect, tried to escape across the wall to the West. He was shot by a border guard. East Germany appeared as determined as ever to keep its citizens in the country, even if it meant killing them.

Only 10 months later, David Hasselhoff was prancing around on top of the partly demolished wall, wearing a piano keyboard scarf and sporting a jacket with lights stitched into it, belting out his hit Looking for Freedom to a crowd of united Germans on New Year’s Eve. Swift was the passage from cruelty to kitsch.

So what happened in those 10 months? In The Collapse, a fast-paced, fascinating account of the final weeks, days and hours of the wall, Mary Elise Sarotte explains how we got from Gueffroy’s shooting to the Hoff’s cavorting. The sequence of events that resulted in thousands of East Germans flooding into West Berlin on the night of November 9, 1989, had little to do with the grand strategies of Cold War statesmen. On the eve of the 25th anniversary of that momentous night, Sarotte tells us that it came about by accident.

“The wall’s opening was not a gift from political elites, East German or otherwise, and was in no way predetermined, ” Sarotte writes. “It resulted from a remarkable constellation of actors and contingent events – and not a little courage on the part of some of the individuals directly involved – that came together in a precise but entirely unplanned sequence.”

Source: www.telegraph.co.uk

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