PBS video on the fall of the wall

Thursday 21 April, 2011

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs hosted a screening of the video After the Wall: A World United & hosted a panel discussion immediately afterwards Germany United: The Story of a European Powerhouse featuring the director/producer/writer Eric Stange, Christian Friedrich Ostermann, director of the Woodrow Wilson Center’s European Studies Program, & J.D. Bindenagel , who was U.S. deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin, East Germany, at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. You can watch the preceding video The Wall:  a world divided @ the bottom of the above-mentioned webpage.  You can rent the video we saw on Netflix & see it aired on Chicago’s WTTW on 8 May.   Here’s a summary of the panel discussion.

All of this was predicated on Gorbachev’s commitment to non-violence & non-intervention.  It was not just the East Germans who opened their borders, it was the Poles & Hungarians as well.  The reform of travel rules was an accident, & the result was the breaking down of the wall when an East German official mistakenly gave the OK to the mass media to report that the wall was open before it really was.  Prior to the fall of the wall, the Americans were pretty much MIA in recognizing the imminent changes.  Bindenagel was struck by the pace of what happened, as if it were a video on fast forward.  Conventional wisdom held that the USSR would defend the DDR, but the 1st meeting between Bush & Gorbachev didn’t happen until 3 December, 1989 when the DDR was on the verge of civil war while 400K Soviet troops stood by.  Demonstrations in Dresden & Leipzig set the popular mood, so it wasn’t just East Berliners who made the 1st moves.

This documentary was created because George HW Bush didn’t think Americans knew enough about the significance of these events & wanted to give Gorbachev credit for what happened.  Researchers found leaders of resistance who risked everything before the wall fell.  Ironically, organized religion was the chink in the Soviet armor because it became a sanctuary for activists.


  • The economic impact @ 1st was drastically negative on the united Germany, when they created a monetary union & converted East German debt into West German debt-it killed them.  They’ve paid $100B for each of the last 20 years, which has been equated to 4 Marshall Plans.  The longer term effects are still being determined.
  • There was some resentment on both sides after reunification, but it had to be done.  The US encouraged $8.5B in investment in the 5 new federal states by Dow Chemical, Guardian Glass, etc., which created great relationships for US businesses through these investments.  There was an exodus of skilled labor from east to west, which created labor shortages, which were also fueled by low birth rates, & globalization.  Germans questioned immigration policies & multiculturalism in asking how open they were to foreign workers.
  • The main difference between the fall of the wall & the recent “Middle East Spring” is the level of violence, which changes everything.  In East Germany, the Stasi headquarters was attacked, but there was no violence.  The West German constitution had article 23, which allowed older parts of Germany to rejoin, so there was already regulatory governance structure to allow it to happen.  Germany had Helmut Kohl leading the charge, although he originally couldn’t conceive of reunification, he proposed confederation.  Reunification was proposed by a Russian to him.   So Germany is very different because it had prefabricated solutions in NATO, the EU, etc.  Also, those who made the revolution did not end up running things.  The situations are a little bit similar in that the East Germans’ future looked bleak, & they felt they had little to lose by change, which is a similar mentality to that they had in Egypt.

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