Lessons from the fall of the Berlin Wall still ring true, 30 years later

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BERLIN — On Saturday, Germany and the free world will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

For generations who lived through the Cold War, it was a monumental moment in history. For younger generations, it was something they heard stories about or learned in school.

The Wall has now been down longer than it stood, and it seems as if the lessons it taught the world are standing up to the test of time.

The Wall went up in August of 1961, virtually overnight. From the end of World War II to the wall going up, Communist East Germany lost 3.5 million people. If people continued leaving the east for the west, East Germany would collapse. The Wall was the government’s solution.

West Berlin was unique in that it was an island of freedom in a sea of East Germany Communism. While the four allies in World War II divided Germany up, with the former Soviet Union controlling the East and the three other allies — including the United States — overseeing the West, all had flags planted in one of the four sectors of Berlin. It was a mission of western Europe and every U.S. president from Kennedy to H.W. Bush to keep West Berlin free. With that mission came the real possibility that a simple misunderstanding could turn into World War III.

“You can not solve a problem with a Wall,” said Dr. Jochen Staadt, a professor at Free Berlin University. Staadt said people continued to try and escape, despite the wall. Even the threat of death or secret prisons didn’t stop people from trying.

About 140 people died trying to escape East Germany. The last deaths came just eight months before the border was opened and the Wall came down.

Leo Klein was there that night in November. He grew up in Lakeview and traveled the world after graduating from University of Illinois at Chicago. When asked if a lesson was learned by the Wall he said, “Sometimes we learn them and then forget them. At least temporarily.”

Patricia Guhr and Judith Becker are both 29 years old.  Both grew up in south Germany, but they never knew a divided Berlin or divided Germany.

“For me, it was more like a chapter in a history book,” Becker said.

Still, the two women said they understand the significance of the Wall and its fall.

“It was a horrible thing in the past and it would be a horrible if in any part in the world,” Guhr said. “The use of something like that, such a separation, it definitely did a lot of harm.”

The celebration of the fall of the Wall began earlier this week and will continue throughout the weekend.  Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will be in Berlin on Friday to unveil a statue of President Ronald Reagan, who in front of the Brandenburg Gate, famously asked his Soviet counterpart to tear down the wall. His statue will be placed at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin, which interestingly enough is located behind the gate where Reagan spoke in what would have been East Berlin.

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