A fallen wall, a renewed Germany, a united Europe
Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, harmony between Germany and the rest of Europe at last seems natural and durable.
Hanna Gleiss doesn't remember much about the fall of the Berlin Wall except for the painted shards her parents chipped out once upon a time and kept around the house as mementos. But because of that spectacular end of the cold war two decades ago, she and her generation of East and West Germans alike can take for granted the exhilaration of studying in Paris.Skip to next paragraph
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I met Hanna a few days ago when her joint team of German and French university students invited me to take part in a panel at the Institut d'Études Politiques on the mauerfall, or "fall of the wall" in 1989. The easy camaraderie of this transnational cohort that never experienced either the cold-war division of Europe or the century-long Franco-German enmity that preceded it offers the best possible proof of just how much that mauerfall has altered the face of Europe.
The political change wrought by the end of the cold war was immediately apparent. The demonstration of civil courage by East German "dissidents" in their march in Leipzig on Oct. 9, 1989 – in a land not renowned for civil disobedience – set off a happy chain of events to the east. The Leipzig example sparked the breach of the Berlin Wall in November. That, in turn, set off a chain of popular demonstrations and democratic regime change in Prague; Sofia, Bulgaria; and elsewhere. Remarkably, in a historic first for breakup of empire, there was no bloodshed except in Romania.
With Moscow's empire gone, Poland, Hungary, and other Central European states resumed their traditional Western orientation and eventually joined the European Union. Living standards rose sharply throughout the region. Polish plumbers and cleaning ladies commuted to Paris and London and Berlin to fill labor shortages there. Central European students won scholarships to Oxford, the Sorbonne, and the new Central European University in Budapest.