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 on the part of many 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.
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).
From the wall going up to it coming down
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
George H. Bush
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".