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The fall of the Berlin Wall

The fall of the Berlin Wall
The wall had been built in 1961 by the puppet communist state installed by the USSR after World War II in occupied East Germany. (Getty Images)
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Updated 07 May 2020

The fall of the Berlin Wall

The fall of the Berlin Wall

The dismantling of the Soviet bloc symbol was a sign that the Cold War’s days were numbered

Summary

On Nov. 9, 1989, jubilant crowds on both sides of the East-West border began tearing down the Berlin Wall, the hated symbol of the Cold War that had divided Berlin and Berliners for almost three decades.

The wall had been built in 1961 by the puppet communist state installed by the USSR after World War II in occupied East Germany. For 28 years, it stood as the physical manifestation of British wartime leader Winston Churchill’s rhetorical prediction in 1946 that the Soviets were intent on drawing “an iron curtain” across Europe.

Over the years, thousands of East Berliners risked their lives, and hundreds lost them, attempting to defect to West Berlin. In the end, the collapse of the wall, toppled by popular pressure as the communist states of Eastern Europe suddenly began to fall, symbolized the collapse of communism itself. In 1991, just one year after East and West Berlin were reunited, the USSR itself imploded.

DUBAI: I have a piece of the Berlin Wall. Don’t we all? If every “piece of the Berlin Wall” were genuine, the edifice itself would have encircled the globe three times with enough left over to separate the US from Mexico. Nevertheless, no one will persuade me that my chunk of crumbling concrete, stained with the fading paint of a long forgotten graffiti artist, is anything other than the real thing.

Of less dubious provenance are my East German border guard’s fur hat and lapel pin, purchased at an impromptu trestle-table market set up by enterprising Berliners near the Brandenburg Gate. These have a back story.

When it became clear that the wall would fall, many of the communist guards (not the most popular of fellows, having been responsible for the deaths of up to 200 of their fellow Germans in the previous 30 years) fled down the broad Unter den Linden avenue, casting off their uniforms for fear of being identified. Ironically, many were subsequently detained, betrayed by the fact that in the unforgiving chill of a German November, they were wearing only underwear.

In September 1938, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain described Adolf Hitler’s annexation of the Sudetenland as a “quarrel in a far away country, between people of whom we know nothing.” A year later, Britain was at war with Nazi Germany.

In June 1961, East German leader Walter Ulbricht declared: “No one has the intention of erecting a wall.” It was the first clue that this was precisely the intention.

Ross Anderson

On Nov. 11, 1989, no such insular myopia afflicted Arab News, which devoted a large chunk of its front page to events in Germany — “a far away country,” certainly, but one where the Cold War played out every day in a single city, with profound implications for the Middle East and the whole world.

If the fall of the wall was inevitable, so too was its construction, which began in August 1961 amid the division of Europe after World War II. Within four years of the conflict ending, the Soviet Union had installed puppet communist governments throughout Eastern Europe, including the new German Democratic Republic, or East Germany.

The Western allies set up a parallel administration in areas they controlled, which became the Federal Republic of Germany, or West Germany. The frontline of this Cold War was West Berlin, a Western enclave surrounded by the communist East.

It was never going to work. As the West prospered, thanks to an influx of Marshall Plan funds from America, the East stagnated, stifled by economic mismanagement and a sclerotic bureaucracy.

Tensions simmered for 12 years, exacerbated by the original “brain drain” of the young, the bright and the ambitious from East to West. In June 1961, East German leader Walter Ulbricht declared: “No one has the intention of erecting a wall.” It was the first clue that this was precisely the intention.

East German troops and police closed the border at midnight on Aug. 12, and the following day — still known in Germany as Barbed Wire Sunday — they began sealing off West Berlin with the beginnings of the wall.  By the time it was complete — it went through four iterations, in 1961, 1962, 1965 and 1975 — the wall was more than 150 km long and 4 meters high, with 186 watchtowers, more than 250 dog runs and 20 bunkers.

Key Dates


  • 1

    Walter Ulbricht, East German Communist Party leader, orders construction of a wall to separate East and West Berlin.


  • 2

    Construction of the Berlin Wall begins.

    Timeline Image Aug. 13, 1961


  • 3

    In a speech in West Berlin, US President John F. Kennedy says: “Today in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’.”

    Timeline Image June 26, 1963


  • 4

    US President Ronald Reagan, visiting West Berlin, calls on Mikhail Gorbachev, leader of the USSR, to “tear down this wall.”

    Timeline Image June 12, 1987


  • 5

    The East German government lifts travel restrictions, and crowds begin dismantling the wall.

    Timeline Image Nov. 9, 1989


  • 6

    West and East Germany are reunified as the Federal Republic of Germany.


  • 7

    Gorbachev resigns as president of the Soviet Union, replaced by Boris Yeltsin as president of the new state of Russia.

    Timeline Image Dec. 25, 1991

The Soviet bloc maintained for 40 years that the purpose of the wall was not to keep its people in, but to keep the “fascist West” out — a claim somewhat diluted by the facts. Between 1961 and 1989, more than 5,000 East Germans defeated the wall — whether by tunneling under it, flying over it or simply driving straight through it. The number who traveled in the opposite direction is not thought to be large.

The wall, and all it represented, were a red rag to successive US presidents. Less than two years after its construction, John F. Kennedy told a crowd of 450,000 in West Berlin: “All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words, ‘Ich bin ein Berliner!’” Pedants (and bakers) pointed out that he had declared himself to be a jam-filled German pastry, but the point was made.

Twenty-four years later, in a speech at the Brandenburg Gate, Ronald Reagan directly challenged Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev: “If you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe … Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

Reagan did not have long to wait. As he spoke, the Soviet dominoes were beginning to tumble. The communist government in Poland was booted out of office. Hungary dismantled the fence along its border with Austria, and 13,000 East Germans took that route to the West. There was unrest in Czechoslovakia. East Germany’s puppet leader Erich Honeker resigned in October 1989, having predicted that the wall would stand for another 100 years. He was, as he had been for most of life, wrong.

In the end, the wall came down even more quickly than it went up. After a bungled press conference by an East Berlin Communist Party official on Nov. 9, apparently relaxing the regulations on travel to the West, thousands of jubilant East Germans massed at the wall and demanded that the crossing gates be opened. The more enterprising climbed on top, where they were joined by their brothers and sisters from the other side. Vastly outnumbered and without orders (their commanders were equally confused), the guards simply stood aside. The wall had fallen.

“Twenty-eight years after locking its citizens in one of the largest prisons ever constructed through the Berlin Wall, the East German regime has given in to the irresistible pressure of freedom.”

From an editorial in Arab News on Nov. 11, 1989

The beaming, blond-haired young man at the immigration counter in Berlin’s Tegel Airport was friendly but firm. “No need!” he declared. “No need to stamp the passport! Today we’re one country once more! A historic day!” We all pleaded: “But you don’t understand, that’s precisely why we want our passports stamped.”

Eventually the pfennig dropped. With Teutonic efficiency, desks were set up in one corner of the arrivals lounge, in front of which anyone with a sense of history queued up to have their passports stamped with that day’s date — Oct. 3, 1990, the day Germany was reunified.

In central Berlin, although the wall had been gone for less than a year, the only sign that it had ever been there was a narrow scar slicing through the heart of the city; the only sign, that is, until you crossed from what had been West into what had been East.




A page from the Arab News archive showing the news on Nov. 11, 1989.

The former was vibrant, a riot of color, and the parties seemed to have been going on since the previous November. The latter was grey — the streets were grey, the buildings were grey, even the people were grey, their faces blighted for a dull pallor betraying decades of poor diet.

Since then, the old East Germany has been playing catch-up, at an eye-watering reunification cost of €2 trillion ($2.14 trillion), but with considerable success — best personified by Angela Merkel. Brought up in the East German city of Leipzig from the age of 3 months, and a member of the official communist youth movement at the age of 14, she is now the right-wing chancellor of Germany. Reagan would be proud.

  • Ross Anderson, associate editor at Arab News, was on duty as a senior editor at Today newspaper in London the night the Berlin Wall came down. He visited Germany the following year, and was in Berlin on reunification day, Oct. 3


Renowned US authors Tayari Jones, Brent Weeks join Abu Dhabi Book Fair lineup

US author Tayari Jones is set to take part in the event. (File/ AFP)
US author Tayari Jones is set to take part in the event. (File/ AFP)
Updated 11 min 56 sec ago

Renowned US authors Tayari Jones, Brent Weeks join Abu Dhabi Book Fair lineup

US author Tayari Jones is set to take part in the event. (File/ AFP)

DUBAI: Renowned US fantasy author Brent Weeks, US author Tayari Jones, Emirati writer Eman Alyousuf and Kuwaiti writer Taleb Alrefai are all set to participate at the upcoming Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.

Organised by the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre at the Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi, the 30th edition of ADIBF will see the participation of more than 800 exhibitors from 46 countries around the world, and will comprise more than 104 virtual and physical sessions.

Dr. Ali bin Tamim, chairman of the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre, said: “Despite the challenges we have faced in the wake of the pandemic, the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair is committed to ramping up its efforts to support the publishing industry and to promote cross-cultural dialogue. We are proud to host this event which reinforces our position as one of the most prominent intellectual and literary forums in region, and gives us the opportunity to highlight Arab literary output while simultaneously celebrating the pioneers of arts and culture from across the world.”

As part of its cultural programme, the fair will feature the artistic and literary works of authors and artists from multiple fields. Among those will be American author Tayari Jones, considered one of the most important writers of her generation, who will hold a session to discuss her latest work. In another session, the fantasy great Weeks will talk about the importance of science fiction novels in transporting readers away from the monotony of their daily lives. Providing a regional perspective, Kuwait’s Alrefai will participate in a dialogue with Emirati writer Alyousuf, to discuss how the pandemic has encouraged reading.

British television presenter and historian Bettany Hughes will join a conversation about the impact of plagues and pandemics on civilisations, while Emirati writer Sultan Al-Amimi will speak about with the importance of short stories and their role in enhancing literary diversity. .


Egypt jobless rate rises amid pandemic second wave

Egypt jobless rate rises amid pandemic second wave
Updated 51 min 17 sec ago

Egypt jobless rate rises amid pandemic second wave

Egypt jobless rate rises amid pandemic second wave
  • The size of the workforce was estimated at 29,284 million, compared to 29,965 million during the previous quarter

RIYADH: Egypt’s unemployment rate reached 7.4 percent of the total labor force in the first quarter of 2021 — up from 7.2 percent in the previous quarter.
The new data from the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS), reflects the impact of the second wave of the pandemic.
The size of the workforce was estimated at 29,284 million, compared to 29,965 million during the previous quarter, representing a decrease of 2.3 percent, Al Arabiya reported.
The labor force in urban areas reached 13,034 million, with 16,250 million living in rural areas.
Gehan Saleh, economic affairs adviser to Egypt’s prime minister said in April that the second stage of the country’s economic reform program would be launched soon.
She said the plan aims to improve the quality of life of citizens and tackle unemployment through job-creating investments.


Smugglers post gold from Dubai to India hidden in Tang

Smugglers post gold from Dubai to India hidden in Tang
Updated 11 May 2021

Smugglers post gold from Dubai to India hidden in Tang

Smugglers post gold from Dubai to India hidden in Tang
  • It is the latest ruse by smugglers trying to avoid hefty import duties for the precious metal by employing increasingly intriguing methods

DUBAI: Indian customs have foiled an attempt to post gold from Dubai disguised in containers of the popular Tang drink.

After sieving the contents of the drink mix, Chennai customs officials discovered it had been mixed with gold granules, according to a statement from the Commissioner of Customs at Chennai International Airport.
Officials probing the racket found that the address of the receiver had been misused.
It is the latest ruse by smugglers trying to avoid hefty import duties for the precious metal by employing increasingly intriguing methods.
Earlier this year officials at Chennai airport also nabbed two men trying to smuggle gold through the airport underneath their wigs.
The hapless pair were nabbed after their unusual hairstyles caught the attention of officials.

They were found to be carrying two gold paste packets weighing almost 700 g


Review: Kate Winslet exudes quiet brilliance in sleuthing series ‘Mare of Easttown’

Kate Winslet shines in this small town murder mystery. (Supplied)
Kate Winslet shines in this small town murder mystery. (Supplied)
Updated 29 min 40 sec ago

Review: Kate Winslet exudes quiet brilliance in sleuthing series ‘Mare of Easttown’

Kate Winslet shines in this small town murder mystery. (Supplied)

CHENNAI: British actress Kate Winslet has dabbled in period pieces, rom-coms, dramas and everything in between, but in her latest outing in “Mare of Easttown,” a series streaming on OSN in the Middle East, she absolutely dazzles as a detective in a small, conservative town in Pennsylvania.

In bleak, deprived small-town America, everybody knows everybody and working as a cop is not easy for Winslet’s character Mare Sheehan.

Mare, who rarely smiles but is not grumpy or snappy, carries her own demons. She is tired and weighed down by grief over a family tragedy. Add to the mix a wayward ex-husband (played by David Denman) and a cagey daughter (Angourie Rice), and it seems her personal life is enough to fill a drama series on its own.

But this is a murder mystery, and soon our protagonist is faced with the unsolved case of a 19-year-old missing girl and more. The girl had been gone for a year, and her mother is a friend of Mare’s, which makes it difficult and personal for the detective. And it seems like a hard bolt from the blue when Erin (Cailee Spaeny), a single teenage mother, is found dead in the woods one night after townsfolk had gathered for a party.

The people of Easttown, used to leading uneventful lives, are not pleased with the ramped up police presence — including the intrusion of a county detective, Colin Zabel (Evan Peters) who is brought in to assist Mare — and it is into this tense atmosphere that Brad Ingelsby, who created and wrote the series, tweaks the formula to add a romantic angle.

Mare meets writer and guest lecturer Richard Ryan (an intelligent, witty and charming Guy Pearce), who is visiting the town.

The writer turns “Mare of Easttown” from what could have been a dull and boring story into something that leaves us thirsting for more at the end of each twisting episode, where every detail matters.

It is a fantastic study in both police work and, more interestingly, the effect a brutal crime has on a community. The series is ably led by director Craig Zobel, who builds a convincing narrative style.

Of course, his eyes are on the star of the series, and it is remarkable to see Winslet so engaging.


Arab League, Muslim World League condemn Israeli attacks against Palestinians, US expresses concern

Arab League, Muslim World League condemn Israeli attacks against Palestinians, US expresses concern
Updated 32 min 57 sec ago

Arab League, Muslim World League condemn Israeli attacks against Palestinians, US expresses concern

Arab League, Muslim World League condemn Israeli attacks against Palestinians, US expresses concern
  • Aboul Gheit called on the international community to act immediately to stop the violence
  • The Muslim World League has strongly condemned the attacks at Al-Aqsa Mosque

CAIRO: The head of the Arab League condemned on Tuesday deadly Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip as “indiscriminate and irresponsible” and said Israel had provoked an earlier escalation in violence by its actions in Jerusalem.
“Israeli violations in Jerusalem, and the government’s tolerance of Jewish extremists hostile to Palestinians and Arabs, is what led to the ignition of the situation in this dangerous way,” Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit said in a statement.
The attacks in Gaza were a “miserable show of force at the expense of children’s blood,” he said.
Aboul Gheit called on the international community to act immediately to stop the violence, saying continuing “Israeli provocations” were an affront to Muslims on the eve of the Eid holiday at the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
Arab League foreign ministers are holding a virtual meeting on Tuesday to discuss the situation in Jerusalem.
Meanwhile, the Muslim World League has strongly condemned the attacks at Al-Aqsa Mosque, it said in a statement.
The organization, issued Tuesday went on to say that it rejected the escalations against worshippers.
Mohammed bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa, secretary-general of the Muslim World League further denounced all acts of violence that undermined the dignity and rights of the Palestinian people, as well as provoking the feelings of Muslims around the world.
Al-Issa called on the International community to put an end to the violence, preserve the right of the Palestinian people, provide the necessary protection of civilians, guarantee their right to practice their religion, and stop all violations and attacks.
He also reiterated the affirmation of standing by the Palestinian people. He said he supports all peace efforts to reach a just and comprehensive solution to the Palestinian issue.
He also said the solution should allow Palestinians to establish their independent state on the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as their capital, in accordance with international legitimacy decisions and the Arab Peace Initiative.
Health officials in Gaza said at least 20 people, including nine children, were killed.