Google Doodle celebrates fall of the Berlin Wall

I well remember visiting Berlin when Germany was divided: the huge, imposing wall dividing the city, the strip of cleared ground (containing land mines) on the East German side, and the drabness of East Berlin when my father and I visited after passing through Checkpoint Charlie. (As an American Army officer, my father was allowed to travel around the city for one day, so long as he remained in uniform.)

One of the eye-moistening, throat-swelling moments of my life was when the Berlin Wall came down after an abrupt announcement from Günter Schabowski, the head of the Party in East Berlin. That took place exactly 25 years ago today. Schabowski was told to announce there would be free movement between East and West Berlin, and, proclaiming that in a press conference, was taken by surprise when a reporter asked him when, exactly, the provision would take effect. Confused, Schabowski said, “Immediately”, even though it wasn’t supposed to happen for another day.

So, at 10:45 on Nov. 9, 1989, the East Germans rushed to the wall, overwhelmed the confused border guards, and crossed to the West. West Berliners, crossed into the East as well. People took pickaxes to the Wall and drank champagne on top of it. What a time!

It was earlier in the day in the U.S., of course, and I well remember staying up to watch the celebrations, old enough to know what this meant. It was the end for Russian hegemony over Eastern Europe, and a testament to the human aspiration for freedom.

Google Doodle celebrates this day, and if you click on the screenshot below you’ll go to the special 1:17 movie Google made for the occasion. It’s deeply moving, at least to those of us who saw it happen:

Screen Shot 2014-11-09 at 7.47.52 AM

I don’t recall Google actually making its own movie before for a Doodle, though it’s had plenty of animated cartoons. Here’s their explanation along with a reminiscence from the person who composed the music:

Determined to share this experience on the doodle and others like it around the world, we enlisted several folks and are grateful for their help. Our friends at veed.me arranged 17 international film crews to gather footage. The German Federal Archives (Bundesarchiv) provided powerful archival photographs by Klaus Lehnartz and Heiko Specht to set context for the video. Googlers from around the world translated more than 50 international versions. Morgan Stiff edited it all together.

We’re especially indebted to Nils Frahm, who composed the video’s beautiful music. Nils grew up in Germany and had this reflection of the event:

“I was 7 years old when thousands of East German signature cars arrived in my hometown Hamburg and filled the air with odd smelling blue smoke. I saw strangers hugging strangers, tears in their eyes, their voices tired from singing. I was too young to understand, but I felt that life was different now and that different was better. Now it is our obligation to tell this story to all those who couldn’t be there, who could not feel the spark of the peaceful revolution themselves and more importantly who can’t remember how existence feels when its incarcerated by concrete walls. It is time to celebrate 25 years of unity.”

We couldn’t have said it better.

If you’re too young to remember, well, imagine what it felt like when a people who had been physically divided for nearly 30 years (45 if you count restricted movement)—including separated relatives—began coming together again as one unified nation. I would love for this to happen in our lifetime for North and South Korea, but that seems unlikely so long as the North is ruled by inhuman tyrants and thugs.

 

27 Comments

  1. Jonathan Dore
    Posted November 9, 2014 at 7:40 am | Permalink

    “I would love for this to happen in our lifetime for North and South Korea, but that seems unlikely so long as the North is ruled by inhuman tyrants and thugs.”

    Yes, Korea will have to await its Gorbachev.

    • Posted November 9, 2014 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

      I think there’s a strong possibility there’s something happening there now to start to change things. There are signals that could be interpreted that way. Here’s hoping.

  2. Grania Spingies
    Posted November 9, 2014 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    I was old enough to be aware of the importance of what was happening when the wall came down. Kids of the 70s were aware of the Cold War and its potential consequences.

    I see Gorbachev is less sanguine these days about the outcome of glasnost and perestroika, warning about a new Cold War in the offing. He seems to think that it is all the fault of Europe and America of course, rather than Putin aggression in Ukraine.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted November 9, 2014 at 8:51 am | Permalink

      I think Gorbachev is just trying to get the West to see things from the Russian perspective and in a way foster some sort of peace. Gorbachev is no fan of Putin and has openly criticized him; I suspect the only reason he is able to get away with it is because he is Gorbachev. I read a book about him recently and it is truly astounding that he was able to accomplish what he did – of course, in Russia today, he isn’t admired as he is in the West.

  3. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted November 9, 2014 at 8:05 am | Permalink

    I remember this rather well. It is one of the rare times when an old evil is suddenly and peacefully expunged. Although this event precipitated from a decision made by an authority, it felt as if it was a moment of collective consciousness. It felt as if a single people together decided ‘enough’.

  4. Posted November 9, 2014 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    There are strange things afoot in Pyongyang. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a coup in the near future and a gradual opening up.

    • Kevin
      Posted November 9, 2014 at 9:15 am | Permalink

      There are strange things in the ground near Pyongyang…that go boom. If there was ever a perfect intelligence coup d’état it is North Korea. It takes mystification to new levels for every intelligence organization in the world.

  5. Posted November 9, 2014 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    ⚠️

  6. Gerorge Martin
    Posted November 9, 2014 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    I was almost 15 when the Berlin Wall went up in 1961. In the mid 1980s I remember thinking that there were two things that likely never live long enough to see: the Wall coming down, and end of Apartheid in South Africa. Before I turned 50, both were gone.

    Is there any hope for North Korea? I think that would require some sort of strong push from China and maybe some sort disaster.

    George

    • Diane G.
      Posted November 9, 2014 at 11:48 pm | Permalink

      I remember the beginning & the end of the wall as well. And in between countless stories of bravery and tragedy about those who tried to escape from east Berlin.

  7. Diana MacPherson
    Posted November 9, 2014 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    I remember clearly where I was when I learned the Berlin Wall was coming down. I was 19 years old and just completing my first set of university exams. I was taking a history course about the formation of the nation state so we all thought about how our books would need to be rewritten.

    Because I had studied German throughout high school and was still studying it in university, I knew a lot of Germans and many of them had relatives in East Germany. I remember them telling me how they would try to send fresh mandarin oranges at Christmas because East Germany got horrible dried up Cuban oranges. Of course, their relatives never got them because the officials simply opened the packages & stole the oranges for themselves. I also remember how they told me that their relatives put their children on lists for cars in hopes they would be able to get one when they were adults. I was so happy all these people would get to live much easier lives from now on!

    Someone tweeted a really neat picture. In celebration of the 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, they have placed luminous balloons where the Wall once stood, which they will let fly later. This picture shows the old border highlighted with balloons.

    Also, I read this neat CBC article that lets you pull your mouse across the various pictures to see before and after images of the Wall.

    • Posted November 9, 2014 at 11:39 am | Permalink

      That’s a great CBC article, really powerful effect with those photos.

      The fall of the Berlin Wall is one of my earliest concrete memories (I was 5 years old). I remember watching it on TV, and seeing my parents pay such constant attention to the coverage. I didn’t understand what was really going on of course, but I did have the feeling that something unique was happening. Now, I’m pretty glad that I have that memory.

  8. Randy Schenck
    Posted November 9, 2014 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    If I can enter a comment other than remembering the days, please think about this. Some 25 years after the cold war is done, we spend more on military today than at any time during the cold war. We have also continuously been carrying on with war for more than a dozen years and no end in sight.

    It’s possible that America needs more than a little education to change the attitude.

  9. Sciencefictionfan
    Posted November 9, 2014 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    Many greetings from Germany and thank you, Jerry, for a nice remembrance to the fall of the Berlin Wall!

    I was 16 years old in 1989 and lived not far away from the Hanover in Lower Saxony. Nobody in our family believed, that the GDR would dissipate during our livetime. My mother even had a bet with friend. She was happy at the end, that she had lost the bet and had to pay a bottle of sparkling wine. 😄

    It is still a very special and rare moment that I experienced living history.

  10. Posted November 9, 2014 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    No celebration of the fall of the Wall can be complete without this performance:

    b&

  11. Posted November 9, 2014 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    That was quite a year.

    We used to have a store in Canada called ‘Den for Men’, and not long after the wall came down, they were actually selling (what they claimed were) pieces of the wall as souvenirs.

    The following summer I travelled to Europe, and apparently there wasn’t much of the wall left to take souvenirs of. It was a bit embarrassing being a Canadian at that time though. We had the wall come down and the reunification of Germany, I travelled through Switzerland, which has 4 official languages, Gorbachev, Nelson Mandela touring North America, etc. but the only news we were getting from Canada was about Meech Lake (language dispute).

    • Posted November 9, 2014 at 11:36 am | Permalink

      Ha ha La Lac Meech. I had to read a Montreal newspaper article and write about in French class in high school.

  12. Posted November 9, 2014 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    I remember the wall coming down clearly and wishing I could be there to be part of it. It was such an amazing moment thinking of millions getting freedom. I wanted to get my own piece of the wall as a remembrance.

  13. darrelle
    Posted November 9, 2014 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    I lived in (West) Germany in the mid and later ’70s, a period of my life that I have always since considered to be the most memorably formative years of my life. I once took a trip to the wall. We even went to the East side of the wall, which was limited to a short walk, closely guarded, to a frickin’ gift shop of all things. About the only good thing about that experience, aside from perceiving it as a warning of sorts, was that if you were interested in any of the merchandise the exchange rate was around 15 to 1 at the time. Things were definitely different then.

    Watching the fall of the wall was a truly amazing event for me. I would have dearly loved to have been there for that. It would have instigated an instant road trip to join the party.

    • Posted November 9, 2014 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

      What the heck did they sell in the gift shop? How capitalist of them!

      • darrelle
        Posted November 9, 2014 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

        Typical cheap tourist trinkets. I remember thinking it was all rather bizarre, a bit macabre even. An attempt to make things look very different than they actually were. Maskirovka. After all, their system was supposed to be better than the West’s.

        • Posted November 9, 2014 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

          Somewhat related, my dad had a friend who’s Ukranian. Back in those days (80s or 90s) she’d come to visit him in Canada and refused to believe that our stores, especially grocery stores with all the produce, weren’t just pretend for tourists.

  14. Posted November 9, 2014 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

    I’ve lived in Berlin for about 15 years now. what an odd and wonderful city it is. Today I walked the stretch through the city where all those balloons were marking the old border, and then stood on the Oberbaum Brücke waiting for them to release those balloons, (which eventually was a bit anti-climactic).

    The whole 15 km route was packed with people.

    Some nice photos here
    http://www.tagesspiegel.de/mediacenter/fotostrecken/berlin/fototour-magische-bilder-der-lichtgrenze-durch-berlin/10936470.html

  15. Amy
    Posted November 10, 2014 at 5:14 am | Permalink

    Hearty lovely post, I love it! :))

  16. Chris
    Posted November 10, 2014 at 5:25 am | Permalink

    An uncle (along with family) used to teach in the British sector in the early 80s. I visited a couple of times with my brother & grandfather, but didn’t get to go to the East as I would have needed my own passport. I have photos somewhere of the East German guards in their guard tower watching the tourists – us – through binoculars, and also the memorial to people who had died attempting to cross.

    I remember the fall of the wall in 1989 well. That was a fantastic few days. Later on I was also given a small piece of the wall’s concrete but sadly that got lost in a house move. 😦


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