Berlin Wall 1000.jpg


Who could have thought the Age of Division would begin like this? Probably not George H. W. Bush, Eric Honecker or Mikhail Gorbachev (or indeed, most observers)

Caught between a collapsing Soviet empire and western alliances adjusting to a new world order, Yugoslavia goes up in flames.

Coming after the end of one significant historical epoch (the post-World War II consensus) and in the middle of what followed (a free enterprise boom), the fall of the Berlin Wall was a surprise that caught most observers off-guard.

To those in Western intelligence circles, the opening of the East German border, and just how it opened - chaotically, without fanfare and apparently at random - was a warning that the assumptions which had underpinned policy towards the communist East and the Soviet Union, in particular, were fatally flawed.

That shock would soon be replaced by self-congratulation at the 'End to history' (or even, in it's most naive form, a 'Holiday from history') as it seemed, for a while, that democratic values had conquered the world.

Heady and optimistic times, indeed.

Berlin Wall BaW 1000.jpg


From the wall going up to it coming down


The forces of history intervene


Two sets of players on either side of a divide shape and steer the forces of history (or at least attempt to)

Helmut Kohl

West German Chancellor between 1982 and 1998, then of the reunited Germany (between 1990 and 1998). During his political career Khol is committed to European integration, an ally of the US and supports Reagan's policies to weaken the USSR.


Khol also oversees the end of the Cold War and German reunification (for which he is termed the Chancellor of Unity) and moves the federal capital from Bonn to Berlin.

Mikhail Gorbachev

Reforming former Soviet politician, Gorbachev is General Secretary of the USSR's governing Communist Party from 1985 until 1991 and the country's head of state from 1988 until 1991.


In January 1990, Gorbachev privately agrees to permit East German reunification with West Germany, but also rejects the idea that a unified Germany can retain West Germany's NATO membership.

Erich Honecker

A leading East German politician and General Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) leading up to end of the East German Communist state.


As party leader he works closely with Moscow and tightly controls the German Democratic Republic government from 1971 until being forced out of office in the weeks preceding the fall of the Berlin Wall, in October 1989.

George H. Bush

The 41st President of the United States, from 1989 to 1993 (and the 43rd Vice President from 1981 to 1989), Bush has to respond to the rapid collapse of Eastern Europe and the breakaway of the Warsaw Pact countries as they became independent nations.


He also chooses not to meet with Mikhail Gorbachev to discuss these events until after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Ronald Reagan

American President from 1981 to 1989, Reagan begins his presidency during the decline of the Soviet Union, which he accelerates through an aggressive US arms build-up which the USSR attempts to follow.


The Berlin Wall falls just ten months after the end of his term, Germany reunifies the following year and on 26 December 1991 the Soviet Union finally collapses.

Margaret Thatcher

Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990. The Red Army newspaper The Red Star dubs Thatcher "The Iron Lady" in 1976, a nickname that then becomes subsequently associated with her uncompromising politics and leadership style.


One of the first Western leaders to respond warmly to reformist Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, she declares in November 1988 that "We're not in a Cold War now".


Influencing events & outcomes


  • 1948

    The Berlin Airlift tests East and West

    The Berlin Blockade is one of the first major international crises of the Cold War.


    During the multinational occupation of post–World War II Germany, the Soviet Union blocks the Western Allies' railway, road and canals to the parts of Berlin under Western control, leading to the Western allies airlifting into the city the resources it needs to survive.

  • 1983

    East German peace protestors make a chain

    In a reflection of the tensions around the deployment of US Pershing II missiles in West Germany in 1983, members of the GDR Peace Movement form a human chain from the US to the Soviet embassies in East Berlin to protest at the arms build-up on both sides of the Iron Curtain.


    The East Berlin demonstrators are eventually dispersed by police.

  • 1989

    Political protests begin in East Germany

    The conference of the New Forum People's Movement opens in East Berlin. Formed on 9 September 1989, New Forum gives rise to similar groups which culminate in a series of protest marches demanding political reform in the country.


    One of the leaders of the New Forum group and a key figure in the movement is the scientist Jens Reich.


  • 1948

    US-West German relations are sweetened

    "Raisin Bombers" is the colloquial term that Berliners give to the American and British transport aircraft which bring supplies to West Berlin during the Berlin Blockade of 1948-1949.


    The names come about after pilots start to throw sweets and in small parachutes to children on the edges of the West Berlin airfields as they watch the incoming planes.

  • 1963

    US allegiance with

    West Germany

    In West Berlin on 26 June, US President John F Kennedy makes his "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech, often cited as the best-known speech of the Cold War.


    In his speech, Kennedy underlines US support for West Germany 22 months after East Germany erects the Berlin Wall in an attempt to stop East Germans from fleeing in large numbers to the West.

  • 1987

    Time to tear down the Berlin Wall

    On 12 June US President Ronald Reagan delivers the 'Tear down this wall" speech in West Berlin. In the speech Reagan calls for the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, to open the Berlin Wall.


    The name is derived from a key line in the middle of the speech when Reagan says, "Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall".


  • 1976

    David Bowie leaves

    for West Berlin

    On the back of the success of his Station to Station album, Bowie escapes the drug culture of Los Angeles (where he has developed a cocaine addiction) for West Berlin, via Switzerland.


    In West Berlin, he hangs out with the locals and is inspired to record the three critically acclaimed albums that make up his Berlin Trilogy; Low, Heroes and Lodger.

  • 1982

    West Germany wins Eurovision

    As the final phase of the Cold War reaches its peak with new missile deployments in East and West Germany, the 1982 Eurovision Song Contest becomes an unlikely focus for public concerns about the arms build-up when West German singer Nicole wins the contest, singing the pop social consciousness song, Ein bißchen Frieden (A Little Peace).


    Chart success follows.

  • 1997

    Goodbye, Lenin! captures a moment

    This touching German tragicomedy film reflects the culture-shock experienced by West and East German citizens after the country is reunited, Most scenes are shot at the Karl-Marx-Allee in Berlin and around Plattenbauten near Alexanderplatz.


    Goodbye Lenin! wins 2003’s European Film Award for Best Film and German Film Award for Best Feature Film.


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