On this Day:
In 1989, the Germans began demolishing the Berlin Wall.
On August 13, 1961, the Communist government of the German Democratic Republic (GDR, or East Germany) began to build a barbed wire and concrete “Antifascistischer Schutzwall,” or “antifascist bulwark,” between East and West Berlin. The official purpose of this Berlin Wall was to keep so-called Western “fascists” from entering East Germany and undermining the socialist state, but it primarily served the objective of stemming mass defections from East to West. The Berlin Wall stood until November 9, 1989, when the head of the East German Communist Party announced that citizens of the GDR could cross the border whenever they pleased. That night, ecstatic crowds swarmed the wall. Some crossed freely into West Berlin, while others brought hammers and picks and began to chip away at the wall itself. To this day, the Berlin Wall remains one of the most powerful and enduring symbols of the Cold War.
The Berlin Wall: The Partitioning of Berlin
As World War II came to an end in 1945, a pair of Allied peace conferences at Yalta and Potsdam determined the fate of Germany’s territories. They split the defeated nation into four “allied occupation zones”: The eastern part of the country went to the Soviet Union, while the western part went to the United States, Great Britain and (eventually) France.
Did you know? On October 22, 1961, a quarrel between an East German border guard and an American official on his way to the opera in East Berlin very nearly led to what one observer called “a nuclear-age equivalent of the Wild West Showdown at the O.K. Corral.” That day, American and Soviet tanks faced off at Checkpoint Charlie for 16 hours. Photographs of the confrontation are some of the most familiar and memorable images of the Cold War.
Even though Berlin was located entirely within the Soviet part of the country (it sat about 100 miles from the border between the eastern and western occupation zones), the Yalta and Potsdam agreements split the city into similar sectors. The Soviets took the eastern half, while the other Allies took the western. This four-way occupation of Berlin began in June 1945.
The Berlin Wall: Blockade and Crisis
The existence of West Berlin, a conspicuously capitalist city deep within communist East Germany, “stuck like a bone in the Soviet throat,” as Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev put it. The Russians began maneuvering to drive the United States, Britain and France out of the city for good. In 1948, a Soviet blockade of West Berlin aimed to starve the western Allies out of the city. Instead of retreating, however, the United States and its allies supplied their sectors of the city from the air. This effort, known as the Berlin Airlift, lasted for more than a year and delivered more than 2.3 million tons of food, fuel and other goods to West Berlin. The Soviets called off the blockade in 1949.
After a decade of relative calm, tensions flared again in 1958. For the next three years, the Soviets–emboldened by the successful launch of the Sputnik satellite the year before during the “Space Race” and embarrassed by the seemingly endless flow of refugees from east to west (nearly 3 million since the end of the blockade, many of them young skilled workers such as doctors, teachers and engineers)–blustered and made threats, while the Allies resisted. Summits, conferences and other negotiations came and went without resolution. Meanwhile, the flood of refugees continued. In June 1961, some 19,000 people left the GDR through Berlin. The following month, 30,000 fled. In the first 11 days of August, 16,000 East Germans crossed the border into West Berlin, and on August 12 some 2,400 followed—the largest number of defectors ever to leave East Germany in a single day.
The Berlin Wall: Building the Wall
That night, Premier Khrushchev gave the East German government permission to stop the flow of emigrants by closing its border for good. In just two weeks, the East German army, police force and volunteer construction workers had completed a makeshift barbed wire and concrete block wall–the Berlin Wall–that divided one side of the city from the other.
Before the wall was built, Berliners on both sides of the city could move around fairly freely: They crossed the East-West border to work, to shop, to go to the theater and the movies. Trains and subway lines carried passengers back and forth. After the wall was built, it became impossible to get from East to West Berlin except through one of three checkpoints: at Helmstedt (“Checkpoint Alpha” in American military parlance), at Dreilinden (“Checkpoint Bravo”) and in the center of Berlin at Friedrichstrasse (“Checkpoint Charlie”). (Eventually, the GDR built 12 checkpoints along the wall.) At each of the checkpoints, East German soldiers screened diplomats and other officials before they were allowed to enter or leave. Except under special circumstances, travelers from East and West Berlin were rarely allowed across the border.
The Berlin Wall: 1961-1989
The construction of the Berlin Wall did stop the flood of refugees from East to West, and it did defuse the crisis over Berlin. (Though he was not happy about it, President John F. Kennedy conceded that “a wall is a hell of a lot better than a war.”) Almost two years after the Berlin Wall was erected, John F. Kennedy delivered one of the most famous addresses of his presidency to a crowd of more than 120,000 gathered outside West Berlin’s city hall, just steps from the Brandenburg Gate. Kennedy’s speech has been largely remembered for one particular phrase. “I am a Berliner.” (Editor: “Ich bin ein Berliner”)
In all, at least 171 people were killed trying to get over, under or around the Berlin Wall. Escape from East Germany was not impossible, however: From 1961 until the wall came down in 1989, more than 5,000 East Germans (including some 600 border guards) managed to cross the border by jumping out of windows adjacent to the wall, climbing over the barbed wire, flying in hot air balloons, crawling through the sewers and driving through unfortified parts of the wall at high speeds.
The Berlin Wall: The Fall of the Wall
On November 9, 1989, as the Cold War began to thaw across Eastern Europe, the spokesman for East Berlin’s Communist Party announced a change in his city’s relations with the West. Starting at midnight that day, he said, citizens of the GDR were free to cross the country’s borders. East and West Berliners flocked to the wall, drinking beer and champagne and chanting “Tor auf!” (“Open the gate!”). At midnight, they flooded through the checkpoints.
More than 2 million people from East Berlin visited West Berlin that weekend to participate in a celebration that was, one journalist wrote, “the greatest street party in the history of the world.” People used hammers and picks to knock away chunks of the wall–they became known as “mauerspechte,” or “wall woodpeckers”—while cranes and bulldozers pulled down section after section. Soon the wall was gone and Berlin was united for the first time since 1945. “Only today,” one Berliner spray-painted on a piece of the wall, “is the war really over.”
The reunification of East and West Germany was made official on October 3, 1990, almost one year after the fall of the Berlin Wall (per https://www.history.com/topics/cold-war/berlin-wall)
First, a Story:
Why was the Berlin Wall taken down?
It didn’t match the Iron Curtains.
Second, a Song:
Scorpions are a German rock band formed in 1965 in Hanover by Rudolf Schenker. Since the band’s inception, its musical style has ranged from hard rock, heavy metal, glam metal, and soft rock. The lineup from 1978 to 1992 was the most successful incarnation of the group, and included Klaus Meine (vocals), Rudolf Schenker (rhythm guitar), Matthias Jabs (lead guitar), Francis Buchholz (bass), and Herman Rarebell (drums). The band’s only continuous member has been Schenker, although Meine has appeared on all of Scorpions’ studio albums, while Jabs has been a consistent member since 1978, and bassist Paweł Mąciwoda and drummer Mikkey Dee have been in the band since 2003 and 2016 respectively.
During the mid-1970s, with guitarist Uli Jon Roth part of the line-up, the music of the Scorpions was defined as hard rock. After the departure of Roth in 1978 and short-lived reunion with Schenker’s brother Michael, Matthias Jabs joined and, following the guidance of producer Dieter Dierks, the Scorpions changed their sound towards hard rock/heavy metal, mixed with rock power ballads. Throughout the 1980s the group received positive reviews and critical acclaim from music critics, and experienced commercial success with the albums Animal Magnetism (1980), Blackout (1982), Love at First Sting (1984), the live recording World Wide Live (1985), Savage Amusement (1988) and Best of Rockers ‘n’ Ballads (1989), which is their best-selling compilation album.
Scorpions’ eleventh studio album Crazy World (1990) was also well-received, and included the song “Wind of Change”, a symbolic anthem of the political changes in Eastern Europe in the late 1980s and early 1990s and the fall of the Berlin Wall. It is one of the best-selling singles in the world with over fourteen million copies sold. Scorpions have sold over 110 million records in total. They have released 18 studio albums, 27 compilation albums and 74 singles. Six of their singles have reached number one on the charts in different countries. Their albums, singles, compilations and video releases have reached gold, platinum and multi-platinum status 200 times in different countries.
Rolling Stone described the Scorpions as “the heroes of heavy metal”, and MTV called them “Ambassadors of Rock”. The band has influenced a number of acts such as Guns N’ Roses, Mötley Crüe, Def Leppard, Metallica, Megadeth, Testament, Skid Row, Cinderella, Doro, Helloween, Hanoi Rocks, and Yngwie Malmsteen. The Scorpions were ranked number 46 on VH1’s Greatest Artists of Hard Rock programme, with “Rock You Like a Hurricane” at number 18 on VH1’s list of the 100 Greatest Hard Rock Songs. “Still Loving You” ranked 22nd place among the greatest ballads. They have received prestigious awards such as three World Music Awards, a star on the Hollywood Rock wall, and a presence in the permanent exhibition of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2015, the group celebrated its 50th anniversary.
“Wind of Change” is a song by West German rock band Scorpions, recorded for their eleventh studio album, Crazy World (1990). The power ballad was composed and written by the band’s lead singer Klaus Meine and produced by Keith Olsen and the band. The lyrics were composed by Meine following the band’s visit to the Soviet Union at the height of perestroika, when the enmity between the communist and capitalist blocs subsided concurrently with the promulgation of large-scale socioeconomic reforms in the Soviet Union.
“Wind of Change” was released as the album’s third single in January 1991 and became a worldwide hit, just after the failed coup that would eventually lead to the end of the Soviet Union. The song topped the charts in Germany and across Europe and peaked at number four in the United States and at number two in the United Kingdom. It later appeared on the band’s 1995 live album Live Bites, their 2000 album with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Moment of Glory, and on their 2001 unplugged album Acoustica. The band also recorded a Russian-language version of the song, under the title “Ветер перемен” (“Veter Peremen”) and a Spanish version called “Vientos de Cambio” “(Winds of change)”.
With estimated sales of 14 million copies sold worldwide, “Wind of Change” is one of the best-selling singles of all time. It holds the record for the best-selling single by a German artist. The band presented a gold record and $70,000 of royalties from the single to Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991, with Soviet news sources claiming the money would be allocated to children’s hospitals (per Wikipedia).
Here are the Scorpions performing “Wind of Change” set to images of the fall of the Berlin Wall by Eric Fav (per YouTube.com). I hope you enjoy this!
Thought for the Day:
“I’m not a prophet, but I always thought it was natural for dictatorships to fall. I remember in 1989, two months before the fall of the Berlin Wall, had you said it was going to happen no one would have believed you. The system seemed powerful and unbreakable. Suddenly overnight it blew away like dust.” – Salman Rushdie
Have a great day!
Dave & Colleen
© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky