The Berlin Wall—Before and After
On November 9, 2009, many places celebrated the twenty-year anniversay of the fall of the Berlin Wall. To people who grew up with a Europe that was divided by the invisible, but ever-present Iron Curtain, it was a moment that they had not really expected to ever witness. In January of 1989, the head of the East German government, Erich Honecker, had still confidently proclaimed that the Wall would still be there 50, and even 100 years later. It was a fact of life, just as communism was a fact of life for the people of the German Democratic Repbulic, and no one really expected circumstances to change. But they did. Almost out of the blue, East Germany opened its borders to the West on November 9, 1989, and changed the lives of millions of people on both sides in the course of a few short hours. Family members who had not seen each other in decades were reunited. East Germans streamed across the border to get a first-hand look at the nirvana they expected to find in West Berlin. It was, literally, as if a dark, menacing curtain had been lifted from all of eastern Europe. It was a day that changed history, and yet, just twenty short years later, young people, even in Germany, don’t know much about this momentous occasion anymore. What sets us apart as a race is the fact that, individually and collectively, we have the ability to learn from our past mistakes and pass that knowledge on to future generations. But how can we learn if, after twenty years, we have already forgotten? So here’s a quick primer to get you up to speed with a couple of movies that put into perspective the before and after of that horrendous death trap that everyone simply referred to as “The Wall.”
The “Before” Picture: “Sonnenallee” (1999): What was life like in Berlin before the fall of the Berlin Wall? A movie about some young people in East Berlin. A short review and resources to go with the movie.
The “After” Picture: “Good Bye Lenin” (2003): What changed in Berlin after the fall of the Wall? How did the unification affect everyday life in East Berlin? Review and various resources to go with the movie.
A fantastic video that explains the background and history of the Berlin Wall in fairly easy and slow German and with great illustrations: simpleshow
A very comprehensive teaching unit from Deutsche Welle.
An excellent historical timeline with pictures and videos
Various materials and links from the city of Berlin on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
A document by the German Bundestag in Easy German about the Berlin Wall.
Der Fall der Mauer (short reading comprehension text about the day the Berlin Wall came down, with questions)
An outstanding documentary about the Berlin Wall is available on youtube (in German only), from today’s perspective. How did the Berlin Wall come about and what has become of it?
A great summary of the historical developments that led to a divided Germany and the building of the Berlin Wall. Lots of pictures.
A nice visual comparison of the before and after with brief historical explanations
25-year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall: a primer by the German Missions in the United States.
Deutsche Welle article about the first years in Berlin after reunification.