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The Fall of the Berlin Wall 25 Years Ago

A city divided symbolized the beginning and end of the Cold War

  • Berlin Wall, balloon release, 25th anniversary, Fall of the Berlin Wall
    Sean Gallup/Getty Images

    Up, Up and Away

    En español | Marking the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Wall, 8,000 helium balloons were released at the culmination of events at the Brandenburg Gate. Release of the balloons, perched on poles at the height of the wall and tracing its path for nine miles, symbolized the breaching of the Wall by protesters in 1989.

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  • Man standing on Berlin Wall, 1989, 25th anniversary, Fall of the Berlin Wall
    Getty Images

    The Wall

    En español | Erected in 1961, the Berlin Wall quickly became a symbol of the Cold War struggle between democracy and Soviet-style communism. And watching the barrier crumble 25 years ago survives as an uplifting memory. Revisit key moments in the Wall’s saga.

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  • Marshall Plan, airlifting supplies to West Berliners, 25th anniversary, Fall of the Berlin Wall
    Everett Collection/Alamy

    From the Sky

    When the Allies divide postwar Germany, the United States, Britain and France insist on continued control of western Berlin, even though the entire capital lies well within Soviet-controlled East Germany. Soviet leader Joseph Stalin blocks transportation routes in 1948, so the United States and its allies begin airlifting supplies to West Berliners.

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  • Berlin Wall, Construction begins, Aug. 13, 1961, 25th anniversary, Fall of the Berlin Wall
    Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

    Penned In

    For years, Berliners enjoy access between East and West, and hordes of East Germans emigrate. To stop the flow, East German troops and workers tear up streets on Aug. 13, 1961, and erect more than 100 miles of barbed-wire fences along West Berlin’s entire perimeter. Several days later, the concrete divide between East and West Berlin begins to go up.

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  • No-Man's Land, Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, 25th anniversary, Fall of the Berlin Wall
    Everett Collection Historical/Alamy

    No-Man’s Land

    In 1962, East Germany adds a second wire fence (far left) parallel to the concrete wall, creating the infamous gravel “death strip” where would-be escapees are shot down. Over the next couple of decades, they introduce other intimidating features, such as snipers in towers, attack dogs and beds of nails.

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  • Peter Fechter, killed, East German border guards, 25th anniversary, Fall of the Berlin Wall
    AP

    Shoot to Kill

    On Aug. 17, 1962, 18-year-old Peter Fechter makes a run for West Berlin. As he scales the Wall, guards shoot him and he tumbles back into the death strip. Onlookers on both sides watch Fechter bleed to death, one of 136 who die trying to reach West Berlin between 1961 and 1989. Many others succeed.

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  • Escape tunnel in Berlin, 1964, woman escaping, 25th anniversary, Fall of the Berlin Wall
    dpa/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

    Underground Railroad

    A woman is pulled to freedom from a tunnel under the Wall in 1964. There were at least 70 such clandestine tunnels, 14 of which East Germans passed through successfully.

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  • President Ronald Reagan’s speech, Brandenburg Gate, 25th anniversary, Fall of the Berlin Wall
    AFP/Getty Images

    ‘Mr. Gorbachev, Tear Down This Wall’

    Commemorating Berlin’s 750th anniversary on June 12, 1987, President Ronald Reagan’s speech at the base of the famous Brandenburg Gate challenges the Soviet leader. Reagan’s amplified words reverberate on the communist side.

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  • American Bruce Springsteen performs in East Berlin, July 1988, 25th anniversary, Fall of the Berlin Wall
    Alamy

    Born to Run

    Hoping to placate alienated youth, East Germany allows American rocker Bruce Springsteen to perform in East Berlin on July 19, 1988. The ploy backfires when the crowd of 300,000 plus TV viewers hear the Boss proclaim in German his hope that “one day all the barriers will be torn down.”

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  • 500,000 protesters, Alexanderplatz, East Berlin, 25th anniversary, Fall of the Berlin Wall
    Alamy

    Groundswell

    On Nov. 4, 1989, 500,000 protesters rally for change in the Alexanderplatz, East Berlin’s biggest public square. It’s part of a surge of demonstrations across the country as the East German regime totters with fading Soviet support.

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  • Car arrives at border crossing, open border, crowd, 25th anniversary, Fall of the Berlin Wall
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    A Drive to Freedom

    When East Germany prematurely announces relaxed travel restrictions on Nov. 9, 1989, West Berliners mass at checkpoints along the Wall and Communist guards stand down. Here, crowds welcome emigrants fleeing in an East German-made Trabant car.

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  • Thousands of young East Berliners, atop the Wall, Brandenburg Gate, 25th anniversary, Fall of the Berlin Wall
    AFP/Getty Images

    Up and Over

    Thousands of young East Berliners crowd atop the Wall near the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin, offering dramatic television images that transfixed the world. The end of separate Berlins sounded a death knell for the Soviet Bloc.

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  • West Berliners swarm the Wall, graffiti, East German border guards, new crossing point, 25th anniversary, Fall of the Berlin Wall
    AFP/Getty Images

    A New Passageway

    West Berliners swarm the Wall defaced by defiant graffiti, as East German border guards begin opening a new crossing point.

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  • School children talking with border guards, November 1989, 25th anniversary, Fall of the Berlin Wall
    Getty Images

    Fast Friends

    Less than a week after the Wall’s demise, West Berlin children walking to school stop to talk with East German border guards. Formerly intimidating security forces and the free West Berliners quickly set aside their differences.

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  • East German policeman, hole in wall, 25th anniversary, Fall of the Berlin Wall
    AFP/Getty Images

    Falling Apart

    An East German policeman gazes through a hole punched through the rapidly deteriorating Wall, a potent symbol of democracy’s triumph over totalitarianism.

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  • Cobblestones in the middle of the street, German Reichstag building, 25th anniversary, Fall of the Berlin Wall
    AFP/Getty Images

    Gone but Not Forgotten

    Five years ago, approaching the 20th anniversary of the Wall’s destruction, cobblestones in the middle of the street approaching the German Reichstag building, which houses the lower house of the German parliament, mark the line that once divided the city.

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