The most memorable symbol of the revolution that swept across Europe two decades ago is the November 1989 opening of the Berlin Wall.
Two one-hour documentaries look back to the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall, the re-unification of Germany after 40 years of separation, and the unique partnership among three world leaders — George Bush, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Helmut Kohl — that ended the Cold War without a shot being fired.
The Wall — A World Divided
About the Program
Berliners woke on Sunday morning, August 13, 1961, to find their city and their lives cut in two by a wall of barbed wire and concrete blocks. It was almost impossible to flee the oppressive East German regime.
Ordinary citizens found themselves caught in the extraordinary politics of the Cold War: a young father forced to tunnel beneath the Wall to be reunited with his wife and two sons; a teenager whose love of pop culture got him in deep trouble with the state; a young man broken by the ruthless interrogation methods of the secret police.
This film also follows the birth of the freedom movement in a most unexpected place: the Protestant Church. In the late 1980s when restrictions on churches were relaxed, rather than becoming obsolete as the regime expected, churches became a sanctuary for everyone who yearned to be free: environmentalists, feminists, punk rockers, and peace activists alike. At the same time forces of reform, triggered in part by Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev, were sweeping through Soviet satellite states. The East German government began to face a small but determined opposition movement and massive public protests.
But, what actually opened the Wall was — surprisingly — a mistake. An East German bureaucrat misspoke at a press conference on November 9, 1989, and triggered a flood of people at one of the East Berlin crossing points. The border guards had no instructions and were forced to let the crowds through — catching the world's leaders by surprise.
After the initial days of celebration following the opening of the Wall, the fate of the two Germanys hung in the balance. Would a new chapter of instability doom Gorbachev's era of reform and deepen the divide between east and west?
The spiraling events prompted an unparalleled diplomatic effort from one-time enemies. Interviews with George H.W. Bush, Mikhail Gorbachev and Helmut Kohl offer unusual and intimate details about the inner workings of government at the highest levels and how relationships among world leaders guided the completely unanticipated series of events that resulted in a new Europe in less than a year changing the course of modern history.
Other major players from all sides provide insightful and often surprising perspectives, including then-Secretary of State James Baker, National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, Soviet Affairs Advisor Condoleezza Rice, and West German National Security Advisor Horst Teltschik.
March 1990 brought a spectacle East Germans hadn't seen in nearly 60 years — an open election. Helmut Kohl's conservative party pulled off an upset, indicating the strong desire of East Germans to unify the country as soon as possible. Germany was formally united in October, less than one year from when the wall fell.
Hear first-hand testimony from East German leaders who oversaw the abrupt and unexpected end of their forty-year experiment in socialism, as well as the stories of ordinary Germans suddenly free to live their lives in a modern capitalist economy.
After the loss of East Germany, Gorbachev was forced out of office and the Soviet Union crumbled. One of the final phone calls Gorbachev made from the Kremlin was to his good friend, George Bush. The last head of the Soviet Union was calling to say good-bye to the President of the United States. The Cold War was indeed over.