When the Berlin Wall came down
Twenty years later, the rest of the world is a different place because of that event.
She was born in a country that no longer exists, in an East German hospital on Nov. 9, 1989, the day the Berlin Wall came tumbling down.Skip to next paragraph
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Jamila al-Yousef's birthday is part of history, the date a marker between the past and the future, between Europe's bloody 20th century and all that came after.
The daughter of a German mother and a Palestinian father, Ms. Yousef has known only freedom in her life, traveling through Europe, attending university in London, connecting with friends around the globe on Facebook, and talking on a cellphone.
Whatever she knows about the Berlin Wall and the old East Germany has come from history books and family stories. Like millions of others in her generation she has grown to maturity in a world where the wall no longer casts a shadow, where Germany is reunified.
"Every time I see the wall on television, I get goose bumps," she says. "I don't know why."
History didn't end with the fall of the Berlin Wall 20 years ago – but a new chapter began. The world we now live in was born on that confusing, joyous, and unbelievable night in Berlin. It began when a hapless East German official mistakenly announced on live TV that restrictions on East German travel to the West were immediately lifted.
By the tens of thousands, people headed for the wall. The masses yearned for freedom and were eager to see what was on the other side. So they streamed through gates and hugged those waiting in the West. Some climbed the barrier; others took pickaxes to concrete.
The wall that had divided a glorious capital city and separated East and West was breached.
European communism would begin to die in cities and countries across the Soviet bloc in those fateful months of 1989 and '90. From Bulgaria in the south to Poland in the north, the old order gave way to the new, change sweeping through Europe and later sweeping the Soviet Union into history.
And the cold war would eventually end. The United States and its allies won. The Soviet Union lost.
Europe's eastern half was liberated. Germany was reunited.
"What looks like an inevitable placid march was far from that [while the world was] going through it," says Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser under US President George H.W. Bush. "We did not know how decisive it was or was not going to be, what the consequences would be."
New York University historian Tony Judt points out in an e-mail that from the Russian perspective, "1989 triggered the collapse of an empire which dated – territorially at least – from Catherine the Great.
"The areas lost to Russia, from the Baltics to the Crimea and on to the Caucasus had been [Russia's] for over 200 years in some cases," says Mr. Judt, author of "Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945." "That's quite an imperial collapse."