1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

From Divided Germany to Reunification

August 13, 2009

It was one of the most significant events of the past half-century: On the night of November 9th, 1989, the East German people, through their courage and non-violent resistance, unexpectedly brought down the Berlin Wall.

November 9th/10th - the night of nights on the Berlin Wall
26.06.2009 DW-TV Im Focus Mauerfall 01
East German soldiers took up position before construction on the Wall began

Thousands of people at the border checkpoints and the Brandenburg Gate fell into each other's arms with joy. The notorious barrier had separated friends, relatives and loved ones for over 28 years. The division of Germany began with the end of the Second World War in 1945, when the victorious wartime allies Britain, France, the Soviet Union and the United States marked off four occupation zones in the remaining German territory and the capital Berlin. In the years to follow, as the Cold War drove the wedge between East and West ever deeper, the four powers found themselves unable to agree on a common future for Germany. The three Western zones were joined together as the Federal Republic, or West Germany, while the Soviet occupation zone became the German Democratic Republic, or East Germany. Berlin, located in the middle of East Germany, remained an occupied city and became a focal point of the Cold War.

26.06.2009 DW-TV Im Focus Mauerfall 02
Construction of the Berlin Wall begins

With its people fleeing to West Germany by the hundreds of thousands, East Germany secured the inner-German border with barbed wire, patrols and alarm devices in 1952. Berlin remained as an opening in the Iron Curtain. As the ongoing population and brain drain threatened East Germany's survival, the East German regime ordered the construction of the Berlin Wall. On August 13th, 1961, within hours, Germany's biggest city was physically divided. East German propaganda styled the Wall and the inner-German border as "anti-fascist protective barriers," intended to guard against depopulation, espionage, sabotage and aggression from the West. In the just over 28 years of Germany's division, many thousands—successfully and unsuccessfully—attempted to flee from the socialist East; hundreds paid with their lives.

26.06.2009 DW-TV Im Focus Mauerfall 03
The Wall separated friends, relatives and loved ones

By the mid-1980s, the socialist system and the division of Germany had become deeply entrenched, while in the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev opened the door to democratic reforms with his socio-political glasnost and economic perestroika policies. Hungary picked up the cue and in summer, 1989, cut away the fortifications on its border to Austria. The Iron Curtain had been torn asunder. East Germany depended on all access routes to the West being hermetically sealed for its very existence. Thousands of its citizens set out for West Germany.

26.06.2009 DW-TV Im Focus Mauerfall 04
Hungary was the first country to open the Iron Curtain

By East Germany's 40th anniversary celebration in the autumn of 1989, the rage and discontent among the population had reached critical mass. After the decades of fear and intimidation, the masses dared to protest openly. The communist regime scrambled to keep the situation under control. At a press conference on November 9th, 1989, the politburo announced new travel regulations. The East German people heard it on live television and streamed to the checkpoints along the Berlin Wall. There was no holding them back. Toward 22:30, the border guards at the checkpoint on Bornholmerstrasse opened the gates. It was one of the happiest moments in German history. But things could have come very differently.

26.06.2009 DW-TV Im Focus Mauerfall 05
On November 9th, the border crossings along the Berlin Wall were unexpectedly opened

The Berlin Wall had stood as a symbol of the division of much of the world into the East and West Blocs. Its fall that November 9th led to the fall of East Germany and, less than a year later, to the re-unification of Germany.In his documentary "The Fall of the Berlin Wall - From a Divided Germany to Reunification," reporter Jens Nicolai recounts the moving story of Germany's division and how it was overcome.