TODAY is the 21st anniversary of the day the Berlin Wall, which had imprisoned East Germans inside a brutal, Soviet state, was torn down.
The fall of the wall did not just free the German people from their oppressors, but symbolized, for the whole world to see, the failure of communism and oppression, the weakening of the Soviet Union and the enduring power of freedom to prevail.
When World War II finally ended in 1945, the four Allied nations Britain, France, the US and the Soviet Union divided Germany into four occupied zones. The German capital of Berlin, located far inside the Soviet territory, was also divided among the four Allies.
But the post-war Soviet Unions communist form of government was at deep odds with the democracies of the other allies.
In 1948, France, Britain and the US ended their occupation, uniting their German territory to form the independent and democratic nation, the Federal Republic of Germany. The Soviets would not give up their German territory.
The new, free German state became known as West Germany, while the Soviet controlled part of the country was known as East Germany. Germans did not want to live under Soviet communist rule, and thousands of people abandoned East Germany for the West every day. By 1961, 2.5 million people had fled East Germany. The effect was devastating to East Germany.
The main point of passage from East Germany to West Germany was through West Berlin, so in 1961, the East Germans sealed shut the border. On August 12, 1961, East German soldiers began laying 30 miles of barbed wire along the border between West Berlin and Berlin, and on August 15, they began to build a wall.
The Berlin Wall stretched 28 miles through Berlin and wrapped 75 miles around West Berlin, blocking it off from East Germany. The wall was fortified with land mines, electrified fences, watchtowers and armed guards. About 5,000 people managed to escape during that weekend in August; thousands were captured, and nearly 200 were shot or killed.
The Berlin Wall stood for 28 years as a visible and disturbing symbol of Soviet occupation and communist oppression. But by the late 1980s, aware of democratic reforms was sweeping across Europe, and the Soviet Unions new leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, was indicating he would welcome improved relations with the West.
In October of 1989, the communist nation of Hungary opened up its border with Austria. East Germans now could escape through Hungary and Austria, and were no longer trapped by the Berlin Wall.
On the evening of November 9, 1989, the East Germans, encouraged by Gorbachev, and besieged by massive demonstrations, began opening up border passages into West Berlin. East Germans streamed into West Germany, climbing on top of the wall, dancing and celebrating.
Picture Above: Thousands of East Berliners came to the West during the night after the border gates opened in 1989.
The following day, East German soldiers demolished the wall. Germany was reunited as one country in 1990.