Twenty Years After The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Monday, November 09, 2009

On the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, three authors who have written on the subject look back on the fall of communism and its continuing repercussions:

Michael Meyer, chief speechwriter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, former Newsweek Bureau chief for Germany, Central Europe and the Balkans between 1988 and 1992 and author of The Year that Changed the World: The Untold Story Behind the Fall of the Berlin Wall.

Victor Sebestyen, British journalist born in Hungary and author of the books Twelve Days: The Story of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire.

Romesh Ratnesar, assistant managing editor of Time Magazine and the author of Tear Down This Wall: A City, a President, and the Speech that Ended the Cold War.


Michael Meyer, Romesh Ratnesar and Victor Sebestyen

Comments [24]

Amy from Manhattan

One more musical recognition of the fall of the wall: Last night WNET rebroadcast the 1989 Berlin Celebration Concert, which took place on 12/25/89. It ended w/Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. In the last movement, apparently at Leonard Bernstein's own suggestion, the word "Freude" (joy) was changed to "Freiheit" (freedom). It was amazing & very moving.

Nov. 09 2009 12:27 PM
Bryan Hickey from New York

I was in Germany and Poland three weeks before the Wall came down. My cousin was a U.S. intelligence officer for the Department of Defense stationed in Germany. Three weeks before, he did not think the wall would come down and said neither the U.S. nor the Soviets wanted a unified Germany. I returned through Check Point Charlie the night of the Leipzig riots. The border guards were harsh but I had no idea what was going on until I got to the West German side. There was a wild demonstration, the foreign press were there, students were shouting and throwing firecrackers. But my West German friends and the foreign press I spoke with, all still did not believe the Wall would come down, and even were convinced that the majority of East German's didn't want it. I think the truth is aside from propaganda, that no politicians really cared about systemic reform if it didn't translate into economic advantage and perpetuation of the security of the status quo. Evidence Bush One's, tepid reaction to Tiananmen Square and the Gorbachev kidnapping.

Nov. 09 2009 12:16 PM

21-- You have described EXACTLY what China just did to us under your pick, W.

True Americans don't just hate, they think instead. Be interesting or switch to Fox/freerepublic please.

Nov. 09 2009 12:07 PM
Calls'em As I Sees'em from McLean, VA

Joke of the Day - Obamatons try to denigrate the Great Ronald Reagan.

Part of Ronald Reagan’s greatness was his humbleness. He gave Gorbachev the credit that he was due as an essential partner for peace.

Reagan was the exact opposite of the current President, a man who delusionally thinks he is “anointed” to rule the world.

Reagan also actively engaged the Russians both openly and clandestinely all around the world to stress their economy, especially in Afghanistan, where our support of the Mujahideen helped defeat the Soviets.

The people of Eastern Europe would not have been as active as they were without the public and private encouragement of Reagan, Thatcher and Pope John Paul II.

Reagan was a great American who cared about liberty for all, unlike the current bunch of knuckleheads in Washington.

The sad part of history is that we are destined to repeat it. Now we have a bunch of Bolsheviks and Maoists in the Democrat Party - lead by Obama, Pelosi, Reid and Weiner et al who want to bring the oppression of those systems to the currently still free people of America.

Nov. 09 2009 11:48 AM

14 -- technically china is now run according to "command capitalism"

(whoa! did i just coin a new label for an entire economy?!)

Nov. 09 2009 11:42 AM
Neil from Fort Greene

Aside from covering Berlin and Obama, the best current events Reggae artist of the early 21st century, Cocoa tea, also hits NYC with his 'Rikers Island' song. ...There's one for the future if it was missed during Bloomberg's Madoff comment...

Nov. 09 2009 11:40 AM
Cara from manhattan

Did anyone else buy a piece of the wall - they actually sold them in Bloomingdales; my mom got me one.

Nov. 09 2009 11:38 AM
robert from new york

back in '89 i was still in poland, and there was nothing in the media indicating that something like this would ever happen. we were like "what the hell just happened"? the wall is down? how come? we couldn't believe it but it was a very good thing. r

Nov. 09 2009 11:34 AM
Jerry from Elmhurst

The real predictor of the demise of the Soviet Union was President Harry Truman. He made his prediction in a farewell address to the American people in January 1953

Nov. 09 2009 11:31 AM

Anne Ryand also predicted the fall of the USSR. She did it I think in the 1930s

Nov. 09 2009 11:30 AM
Mark from Princeton from Princeton NJ

The use of the phrase of the "fall of communism" is extremely misleading. Last time I checked China is alive and well.

If we are going to discuss the fall of the Soviet Union then the language should reflect that. Else, this all borders on news speak.

Nov. 09 2009 11:29 AM


How much did the de-centralization of USSR power after Stalin's death played a role in it's collapse? From what I understand, the regional leaders had a lot more power after Stalin's demise and were withholding revenue from the central government during Gorbachev's reign. This made it harder to implement many of his economic changes.

My source is:

How Capitalism Was Built: The Transformation of Central and Eastern Europe, Russia, and Central Asia
by Anders Åslund
August 2007

Nov. 09 2009 11:29 AM
ebun from fort greene

can we talk about its impact on Africa, during the cold war, both sides jousted for influence in Africa and kept some bad people in power as long as they took sides. I believe when the walls fell, Africa was left alone and still suffers today.

Nov. 09 2009 11:27 AM
hjs from 11211

I thought that those afghans brought down the evil empire.

Nov. 09 2009 11:23 AM
exhungarian from Staten Island

The US deeply disappointed the Hungarians in 56. They were pretending that they would help the revolution , as they used the airwaves of Radio Free Europe and other venues and media ,yet they did nothing.

Reagan's worlds created a myth: the Soviet Union was already in the process of inevitable collapse. Reagan was an opportunist (lucky to be in place at the time) but the Us' role in the collapse is dubious, at least.

(I was 14 at the time of the Revolution and left Hungary in 76.)

Nov. 09 2009 11:22 AM
Pat Burns from New York

WNYC's Zumhagen had an interesting story on NPR yesterday that leant a very interesting bit of information about Reagan's Tear Down This Wall remark that might inform your current conversation

Nov. 09 2009 11:21 AM
wtc worker 93

gary "everyone" was not surprised by the terrorist attack of 2001, despite what the ignorant and unschooled might blindly argue for argument's sake, or exercise, I assume. same with the wall coming down in 89 -- or usa capitalism's toppling in 05-07.

Nov. 09 2009 11:16 AM
kai from NJ-NYC

There were many reasons for the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union.

As for the collapse of the Soviet Union, people rarely talk about its over-reliance on petroleum revenue to prop up its state functions when oil prices were high, and then oil's precipitous price decline during the USSR's 10-year war in Afghanistan.

The USSR's economic well being depending too much on a single, volatile commodity (fossil fuels) for its prosperity, something that is happening to a lesser extent in Russia today.

Nov. 09 2009 11:16 AM

It also shatters this myth that it was all about Communism and not Russian power. Shouldn't we be BFFs with Russia since it was all about communism?

Nov. 09 2009 11:13 AM
hjs from 11211

it's always funny (not) to hear a young person say "who was the cold war between??"

(connect that to the early segment on our poor education system.)

Nov. 09 2009 11:11 AM

Is it true that it was the East German's idea to build the wall?

Nov. 09 2009 11:11 AM
Gary from Upper Left Side

And now, let the revisionism begin...

Truth is, no one had a clue The Wall was about to come down even days before November 1989. Much like 9/11, everyone--including the so-called experts--was totally taken by surprise.

Nov. 09 2009 11:10 AM
peter from long island

If abortion is legal, how can abortion insurance funds not be permitted?

Nov. 09 2009 10:27 AM

Was bemused during bush2's presidency to watch him learn about how other countries are run from the perspective of trying to "create order." From scaring and distracting law abiding citizens, separating morality from capitalism, artificially propping up the national currency to trusting america's oligarchy to manage fiscal and social power, TARP for instance -- Bush actually managed to cherry pick many of Communist China and Russia's most dramatic and occasionally effective tools. It seems that every time my president travelled to China or Russia all we seemed to get was a new 5 year plan. This is what America did, ironically, while China and Russia grew, mostly through industrialization and exploitation of natural resources -- the two classic growth engines of...Communism.

Nov. 09 2009 10:13 AM

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