On Nov. 9, 1989, large crowds of German citizens from both East and West Berlin approached the Berlin Wall. At several border crossing points, East Berliners began shouting at the armed communist guards, demanding they open the gates and shove aside barbed wire obstacles.
The confused guards yielded and disappeared. The gleeful crowds from the communist East and the free West mingled and mixed, occasionally waving at television cameras. Young men whacked at the wall's hideous concrete with pick axes and sledge hammers, then passed the tools to other eager hands.
Make no mistake. The Berlin Wall was a prison wall, an ugly urban segment of Soviet Russia's Iron Curtain barrier, but because it so definitively and obtrusively split one of the world's great cities into a vibrant west and a shabby, shackled east, it became the most potent symbol of the division of Germany, Europe and the Cold War world.
The Kremlin couldn't spin the dramatic photographs and video of Nov. 9. The palpable joy overwhelmed the jailers and their propagandists, and even stunned to silence their usually vocal Marxist sympathizers in the West. Middle-aged fraus laughing at the wall's mounting rubble as teenagers danced beneath abandoned guard towers visibly and undeniably signaled the collapse of the Soviet Union's Eastern European empire.
In its first "post-wall" issue, the German magazine Der Spiegel described the breach of the Berlin Wall with a short headline: "Das Volk Siegt" (the people win, the nation is victorious).
That is certainly true. A majority of Germans locked in the Stalinist eastern sector never lost hope, at least not entirely. A majority of Germans in the NATO-protected west didn't lose hope, either -- nor, despite harsh repression, did Poles (Solidarity movement, 1980), Hungarians (revolt, 1956), Czechs and Slovaks (Prague Spring, 1968) and the other nations enslaved by communism.
Though watched by ubiquitous secret police and their informers, these nations maintained the will to persevere against tyranny and oppression. It was a daily struggle, and spirits flagged as Soviet premiers told the United States, "We will bury you."
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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