Before the Fall
The fall of the Berlin Wall was a dramatic moment in time. In the minds of many East Germans, it was years in the making.
Today, few remember the years of patient effort by dissidents and activists from Warsaw to Budapest that set the stage for that momentous night. Even in the German Democratic Republic (GDR)—commonly known as EastGermany—the beginning of the end happened not in the divided capital of Berlin but in lesser-known cities such as Leipzig, Dresden, and Plauen. In the tumultuous 20 years since the end of communism in Germany and Eastern Europe, the focus on the images of that single night has made it hard to recognize just how much work is necessary for a democracy movement tosucceed.
In East Germany, more than in almost any other country in the communist bloc, the events that became synonymous with the end of communism were the fruit of a protest movement that began years before with no hope of toppling the regime. There was no great symbolism or strategy. The movement’s greatest ambition was to force EastGermany—which became one of the communist bloc’s mosthardcore regimes after its founding in theSoviet-occupied zone of Germany in 1949—to live up to its own ideals. No one imagined bringing down the Communist Party, much less reunifyingGermany.
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Andrew Curry is a freelance writer based in Berlin. His work has appeared in Smithsonian, Wired, Foreign Policy, and elsewhere.more from this author >>