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Remembering the night the Berlin Wall fell

By Daniela Deane, CNN
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Top of the Iron Curtain
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The two sides of the Wall, East and West, showed the differences
  • The fall of the Wall was part of the domino of change
  • People pushed, pulled and hammered at the Wall to bring it down
  • Events did not live up to the optimism of that Berlin night
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Richard Blystone was a CNN Senior Correspondent at the time the Berlin Wall fell. In 1990, Blystone traveled along the former Iron Curtain to report on the lives of those living along the former dividing line between East and West. Click on the videos to watch Blystone's reports.

London, England (CNN) -- Richard Blystone, a CNN senior correspondent at the time, remembers above all the two sides of the crumbling Berlin wall. How different they were.

How the two sides of the one giant wall slicing Germany in two told the whole story somehow.

"On the West side, there was all this graffiti and dirty words and names of rock groups and 'down with that' -- all the chaos of a pluralistic society," recalls Blystone, who was in Berlin the night the wall suddenly fell, the symbolic end of the Cold War.

"On the Eastern side, it was clean and white, just so sterile."

Blystone, 53 then, said the differences became evident as the wall collapsed, as tens of thousands of East Germans pushed it down from their side, while thousands of exuberant West Germans yanked on it from theirs.

"People were pushing and pulling at the same time," he said.

But his main thought that momentous night of November 9, 1989, is what a huge waste the long-time division of Germany had been.

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"Two generations of people unable to participate in what was going on in Western Europe, wasted by being under Communism," he said.

Mostly, though, it was a night of intense celebration, joy, and optimism for the future.

"It was like a big party," Blystone recalls, "with a great rock-concert buzz. People were in such good moods. And yes, some of them were drunk."

Ingrid Formanek, CNN's international executive producer, was with Blystone that night.

"There was a great euphoria," she recalls. "It was good news in a grim world." She said people took hammers to the wall, as if in a race to break down that most obvious symbol of the struggle against oppression.

Formanek had been in Berlin off and on about a month, going back and forth between East and West, sneaking past grim-faced border guards, covering demonstrations in East Berlin and then going back to the West to send the television stories.

In September, protests broke out in the East with protesters at first chanting "we want out" and then gradually changing that cry to "we're staying here", demonstrating their fervent desire for democracy in their part of Germany.

"It was quite evident that something big was going to happen," said Formanek, a CNN producer in Rome then. "I'm not sure if any of us had an inkling the wall was going to fall, though."

The night it did fall, Formanek was covering a function -- she can't even remember what now -- when Gunter Schabowski, communist East German Minister of Propaganda, announced that East Germans would be allowed to travel. His announcement came in response to the peaceful protests that had grown to include one million people in Berlin's Alexanderplatz.

"That was the thing that triggered this wave of people coming towards the wall from the East," she said, "pushing against the guards, tearing down the wall. Nobody knew if this was sanctioned from the top."

After the announcement, thousands of people in East Berlin immediately flooded the checkpoints at the Berlin Wall, demanding entry into West Berlin. Overwhelmed East German border guards opened the checkpoints to allow people to cross the divided city for the first time in decades.

"All the Easties finally wanted to see what this forbidden land had to offer," Formanek said, explaining the tsunami of people who flooded to the wall, for years a grim strip of watchtowers, barbed wire and menacing East German border guards with shoot-to-kill orders.

"Westerners welcomed them with exuberance," she said. "A lot of people didn't believe they would ever be able to do this in their lifetime. It was huge."

Although the focus is often on the night the wall fell, Blystone said a lot had been going on before -- and afterwards too, in that autumn and winter of profound change.

"The wall was just a part of the domino," said Blystone. "There was Poland, Hungary, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Romania."

Blystone said events did not live up to that heady optimism in Berlin that night.

A few months later, he and Formanek went back to the East German side of the Iron Curtain to see how life had changed.

"There was quite a lot of resentment already about the West Germans coming in, throwing their money around," Blystone said. "The Easties were saying, 'we can't do anything about it, because we lost all that time.'"

And then they went back again 10 years later.

"We saw everywhere that the aggressive Westerners were coming in, buying things up, taking over, and the Easterners resented this," Blystone said. "They didn't have the top jobs. Where are the East German Supreme Court justices, the 747 pilots, the soccer heroes and movie stars? They aren't there."

For Blystone, now retired from CNN, the story will always be the high point of his long journalistic career.

"It changed everything," he says of that autumn and winter. "Everything that I had grown up with, all the constants of life as I knew it."

 
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