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Two Berlins are one

November 9, 2009

On November 9, 1989 the world changed. When the Berlin wall was opened that night, a city divided for almost 30 years became one again.

When we look back on that date now, it seems as if it was bound to happen. But nothing about that night was inevitable. Many small events led up to that ultimate one. Opening the broder didn’t automatically come about.

The leaders of the time could have made different decisions, but they kept walking down the road to eventually tear a hole in a wall that had divided Berlin, Germany and Europe for a generation.

The Berlin wall, finally open

The Berlin wall, finally open

On that night, Günther Schabowski announced at a press conference that travel to the West would be allowed without restrictions. He didn’t make himself quite clear, saying that travel restrictions would be lifted “immediately,” even though the offical policy was that you still needed to get a visa if you wanted to come back.

In the months before, East Germans had been flooding the GDR’s embassies in Hungary and Czechoslovakia to leave via Austria, where the iron curtain had been lifted. By some accounts, around 200,000 people left East Germany that summer.

At the same time, demonstrations and prayer vigils were held starting in Leipzig’s St. Nikolai Church. No one knew if the police would shoot at the demonstrators, as it had before. But they didn’t.

They didn’t shoot on November 9, either. Instead, broder guards such as this one opened the gates and the way to that joyous night.

Even though I’m too young to remember, thinking of the events of that day makes me very emotional. It’s incredible what the German people achieved that night, and in the tumultous weeks and months afterwards.

I grew up in a united Europe. When I first consciously started to think about Europe, it was through the EU. This far-away, bureaucratic body of now 27 states is part of my understanding of this continent – a shared space, a shared struggle and a shared future.

Our generation has different defining moments. Our 9/11 is not November 9, it’s September 11. But as we face new challenges, it’s important to remember this moment. It was not meant to happen, but it happened because all these people wanted freedom. Their push for freedom was so strong that, eventually, it brought down the Berlin wall.

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