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The Fall of the Berlin Wall as a direct cause for German reunification

A peaceful revolution triggered by long term causes or immediate events?

Essay 2002 20 Seiten

Geschichte Europa - Deutschland - Neuere Geschichte


Table of Contents



Disintegration of the Warsaw Pact

The SED and its model of Socialism became politically and economically inappropriate.

Chaos, Confusion, Miscommunication: Schabowski’s ‘sofort, unverzüglich’

The media builds bridges

The special position of the church and its relevance

The peaceful revolution



Abstract (299 words)

This investigation accounts for the Fall of the Berlin Wall as a historical event. The disintegration of the Warsaw Pact along with the interior social, economic and political problems in the GDR are examined as long term causes as well as the influence of the media, the church and the citizens of the GDR themselves as main players in the short term. Additionally, the immediate events in the beginning of November 1989 are scrutinized in connection with the Fall of the Wall. The research question in two parts is whether the events around the 9th of November, 1989, can be labelled ‘peaceful revolution’ and what the causes for that revolution are. What is the historical significance of the event and what was it derived from? Consistent with the primary and secondary sources used, the essay concludes that the Fall of the Wall was indeed a peaceful revolution. Examining the development towards pluralism and democracy by the USSR and her satellite states as the foundation for that revolution, the essay scrutinizes both the work of the media with its fuelling effect and the actions of the church as a ‘replacement public’ as causes for the incident. The state with its restrictive forces impaling every aspect of public life producing social, economic as well as political disadvantages for its citizens is the reason for opposition developing. Encountering this opposition, the party looses control over the people and misses a historical chance. Instead of selling the Fall of the Berlin Wall as a sovereign decision for empowerment of the GDR’s citizens it has to watch how the means of isolating them from foreign influences is dismantled. Therefore the significance of the 9th of November 1989 lying in the irreversible loss of power and control by the SED was initiated by the party itself.


‘“Durch eine der fantastischsten administrativen Fehlleistungen in der langen wechselvollen Historie der staatlichen Bürokratie hatte die ostdeutsche Führung die schwerwiegendste Entscheidung ihrer gesamten Geschichte den Menschen auf der Straßeüberlassen.”1

The above quotation accounts very adequately for the events on November 9, 1989 at the Berlin Wall, the border between East and West Berlin. Nobody, including the political leaders of both Germanys, had an idea that the Berlin Wall was about to tumble down when politburo member Günter Schabowski mumbled his famous words of mysterious origin ‘…sofort, unverzüglich’2 at a press conference that very November night. Persevering in demonstrating their will for freedom and unity ten thousands of East German citizens marched at the border posts all over Berlin, which had not enjoyed much traffic since August 13, 1989, when the Wall was built. Eventually, the immense pressure led to the border officials’ decision ‘“We’re flooding.”’3 The previously impassable obstacle dividing two ideologically opposed regimes but at the same time people of one nationality4 was dismantled. The border through German living rooms all over Berlin had been drawn 28 years earlier, as a permanent division between the eastern and western part of the city resulting from an increasing number of ‘fugitives’ from East to West. Families were divided; ‘East German’ parents all of a sudden had ‘West German’ children. At first, the intended ‘“Unterbindung der feindlichen Tätigkeit der revanchistischen und militaristischen Kräfte Westdeutschlands und Westberlins,”’5 as it is phrased in the resolution of the Council of Ministers from August 12, 1961, served its purpose. In 1961, more than 200 000 people had left the country illegally. This number shrank to about 16 000 in 1962, after the ‘border inside Germany’ had been fortified by watch towers, mine fields and armed guards. Can the Fall of the Berlin Wall be labelled ‘peaceful revolution’ and what was this revolution triggered by? Is the historical significance originating from its long term causes or immediate events? Especially it has to be looked at the miscommunication between leading politicians of the SED6, resulting in the mystery around Schabowski’s ‘…without delay, immediately.’ It is definitely questionable whether the party leadership had intended what was later called its ‘self- imposed dissolution.’ The leadership of the GDR7 had with the Wall constructed a self- destruction mechanism, a time bomb that was set for November 9, 1989. Its explosives were personified by the East German citizens who were, supported by various necessary conditions, the leaders of the ‘peaceful revolution.’ They had imposed a revolution on the government from below. The situation was irreversible eventually leading to the two Germanys becoming one again. The actual Fall, meaning complete dismantling, of the Berlin Wall paving the way for German reunification would not have happened without these immediate events.

Disintegration of the Warsaw Pact

The Stuttgarter Zeitung Newspaper identified the Fall of the Wall as a logical result of Glasnost and Perestroika.8 Although that statement is debatable, the relationship between the two terms, which particularly dominated the political development in the USSR in the late 80s, and the events in November 1989 in Berlin can not be denied. Perestroika (transformation) in combination with Glasnost (transparency) significantly influenced Russian foreign policy obviously affecting the GDR as one of her satellite states. Gorbatchow himself wrote about Perestroika, ‘das Wesen der Perestroika liegt in der Tatsache, daß sie Sozialismus und Demokratie miteinander verbindet.’9 This, and the fact that the USSR had recently faced a defeat in her Cold War efforts in Afghanistan led to a new situation. The government of the USSR was not prepared anymore to forcefully suppress political movements towards pluralism and democracy within the member states of the Warsaw pact as it had been the case, for example, in 1968 in Prague.

These new circumstances triggered a number of events with direct or indirect significance for the peaceful revolution in East Germany. Two of the GDR’s adjacent countries, Poland and, most notably, Hungary, lived through a period of democratic change. Hungary, as one for the citizens of the GDR very attractive holiday destination began on Mai 2, 1989 with the deconstruction of its border to Austria, internationally celebrated as the fall of the Iron Curtain. In 1988, 800 000 East German citizens had spent their holidays in Hungary and many more had to travel through the country to reach Bulgaria and Romania each year. From June 1989 on, East German citizens had the opportunity of ‘secure flight’, as Hungary then became a member of the Geneva refugee convention, prohibiting the sending back of fugitives into the country they had escaped from.10 The ‘Breakfast of Sopron’ on August 19, 1989 was a further positive signal for GDR citizens desperate to leave the country as well as a test both of the reactions of the SED as well as from Moscow. More then 900 East Germans crossed the border into the ‘West’ at that occasion under the patronage of Otto von Habsburg. The SED leadership as well as Gorbatchow’s government were once again left power- and speechless.


1 Wilfried Hanisch, historian, in Küchenmeister, D. et al. “...sofort, unverzüglich”: Der Fall der Mauer am 9. November 1989. Potsdam: Rosa-Luxemburg Stiftung Brandenburg, 2000. P. 72. In translation: ‘Following one of the most extraordinary administrative blunders in the long, ever changing history of governmental bureaucracy, the East German leadership gave away the decision making about the most important issue during its whole existence to the common man.’

2 In translation: ‘…without delay, immediately’

Schabowski’s answer to a question by a journalist asking from when on the new travel regulations will be operating.

3 Bahrmann, H. et al. The Fall of the Wall: The Path to German Reunification. Berlin: Ch. Links, 1999. P. 35.

4 Although the existence of one nationality for the whole of Germany was severely opposed by many GDR officials, the historical development until today makes it clear that East Germans had not lost their national identity.

5 Hertle, H.-H. Chronik des Mauerfalls: Die dramatischen Ereignisse um den 9. November 1989. Berlin: Links, 1999. P. 16. In translation: ‘Impediment of the hostile actions performed by the military powers of West Germany and West Berlin seeking vengeance’

6 Abbr. ‘Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands.’ In translation: ‚Socialist Unity Party of Germany.’ Ruling party of the GDR, organized after the Soviet model headed by politburo.

7 Abbr. ‘German Democratic Republic.’ Eastern part of Germany and ‘Soviet Zone’ after World War II.

8 Löffelholz, T. ‘Jubel und Sorge’. Stuttgart: Stuttgarter Zeitung, 11.11.1989.

9 Gorbatchow, M. S. Perestroika. Die zweite russische Revolution. München: Knaur, 1989. P. 41. In translation: ‘The essence of Perestroika is the fact that it merges socialism and democracy.’

10 Hertle, 1999. P. 62.


ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
556 KB
Institution / Hochschule
Waterford Kamhlaba United World College of Southern Africa
IB-Diploma full score
Fall of the Berlin Wall Berlin Wall Peaceful Revolution Glasnost Perestroika



Titel: The Fall of the Berlin Wall as a direct cause for German reunification