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November 1, 1989: The wall falls

Berlin Wall
A man hammers the Berlin Wall in 1989, part of a peaceful revolution tied to the end of the Cold War.

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(CNN) -- For 28 years the Berlin Wall stood, a 12-foot (3.6 meter) high amalgamation of concrete and barbed wire, of spray paint and blood, patrolled on its eastern edge by police dogs and armed guards aided by daunting floodlights.

Some 5,000 East Germans safely escaped the Communist country to democratic West Berlin when the wall stood, but an estimated 940 people died trying -- 270 of them cut down by sentinels under orders to shoot anyone trying to flee -- according to German prosecutors.

The Communist East German government had erected the barrier in August 1961 to curb the flight of its citizens to the West. It quickly became a symbol of the rigid, tense divide between Soviet and U.S.-allied forces in the Cold War, right up until the war itself came to a peaceful end.

start quotePeople build walls to keep an enemy out, and there's only one part of the world and one philosophy where they have to build walls to keep their people in.end quote
-- Ronald Reagan

On November 1, 1989, as East and West Germany talked of unification, the historic wall opened up not with gunfire or animosity, but with celebration.

Helmut Kohl, the head of West Germany when the barrier fell and later chancellor of a united Germany, called the event not only the end of the German Democratic Republic, but the start of a new era for the world.

In a 2002 ceremony, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the wall's collapse helped "liberate the entire international community" from the ideological rivalry between the West and the Soviet Union.

"Perhaps that, too, holds a lesson for us: the lesson that divisions in the human community are not so insurmountable as we feared; that gaps of misunderstanding and material well-being can be bridged; and that we can ... join hands and unite for a better world," Annan said.

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