Why was the fall of the Berlin Wall significant?

Although the iron curtain was first lifted between Hungary and Austria, it was the image of people breaking apart Berlin’s solid concrete divide that became synonymous with the end of the Cold War. Why was this so significant, and what did the event lead to?

You can donwload the worksheet for today’s lesson here. If you cannot download the worksheet, please complete the tasks in the yellow boxes below.

Reunification = When a country or a people that have been divided are reunited.


Consider the following image of the falling dominoes a metaphor for the fall of communism in the Eastern world. Annotate each domino to explain how this happened. We could start with Gorbachev’s ‘new thinking’…

What are the following dominos in this metaphor? What might the last domino represent?

TASK ONE: What were the immediate consequences of the fall of the Berlin Wall?

Watch the BBC News broadcast from the day the borders between East and West Berlin were opened. Consider what immediate consequences this event had on the following:
– The German people
– East Germany
– West Germany
– The Soviet Union
– The USA

TASK TWO: Why was the fall of the Berlin Wall significant?

Read the following information on the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989. Continue to add information to your consequence table.

What were the consequences of the fall of the Berlin Wall?

The Reunification of Germany

After East Germany lifted restrictions on travel to West Germany on November 9th 1989, thousands of East Berliners flocked to the West of the city. They were met by euphoric West Berliners. Strangers embraced in excitement. Some East Berliners were greeted with champagne – probably the first they had ever tried in their lives.

Yet the six checkpoints that were opened struggled to handle the number of people wishing to pass through. Eventually, Berliners from both sides began pulling the Wall down completely. Within six weeks, some 2.5 million Germans had visted the West. They were stunned by the overwhelming choice of items in supermarkets, and were excited to try strange new foods from restraunts such as McDonald’s. The following quote demonstrates that as soon as East Berliners had an understanding of this new world, a return to communism could never be brought back:

‘I went with my mother by train from Berlin. I remember the day very well; being excited and also a little nervous. We passed the border, and no one asked for our passports or where we wanted to go – unimaginable only months earlier. We arrived and everything looked and felt different. Streets were clean, buildings and houses were kept well and the air did not smell of burnt brown coal. For a few days I felt like living in a different world. I returned home after a few days, and became aware of the large differences between East and West, in particular of the rundown, sad and dirty state that East Germany was in’.

A German, who was a 10-year-old living in East Germany when the Berlin Wall fell, describes visiting West Germany three months later.

East Germans were granted their first free elections in 40 years in March 1990. They unanimously voted for parties that would bring about a speedy reunification with West Germany, promising free elections, freedom of speech and freedom of travel. Yet stitching Germany back together posed huge challenged. Both countries had its own flag, national anthem, armed forces, laws, education system and healthcare.

In effect West Germany essentially adopted East Germany, ensuring East Germany worked the same as the capitalist West. This posed some challenges to East Germans. Food was no longer subsidised by the government and employment was no longer guaranteed. Unemployment in East Germany grew from 0% in 1990 to 16% in 1993. So although East Germans enjoyed greater freedoms, the downside became that many were pushed into poverty. Germany was reunified in 1991, but it would take many years for Germany to feel like one country again.

An image of Checkpoint Charlie today. This checkpoint was the most important border crossing in Berlin, and acted as the symbol between the capitalist and communist worlds. Today, the checkpoints acts as a tourist attraction, and actors dress up in US army outfits to pose for photographs. I think the most striking part of the image is the huge McDonald’s outside the checkpoint. I can’t think of a better symbol that states that capitalism prevailed after the Cold War.

The end of the Warsaw Pact

The removal of the borders between the East and West brought an end to an ‘iron curtain’ between capitalism and communism. As governments in the Eastern Bloc moved towards capitalist, liberal and democratic economics and politics, the need for military cooperation against NATO countries evaporated.

In its effort to reunite with West Germany after the March 1990 election, East Germany was the first country to leave the Warsaw Pact. It could not continue to be part of this Pact as West Germany was a part of NATO.

It was not long until other countries questioned the necessity of the Warsaw Pact. Poland and Czechoslovakia announced a strong desire to withdraw from the Pact. The Soviet Union had little choice but to accept the protests from the satellite states: it appeared inevitable that the Warsaw Pact could not continue now the border between the East and the West had vanished.

In March 1991, Soviet military commanders gave up their control of Warsaw Pact forces. A few months later, the Pact’s committee met one final time to declare the end of the Warsaw Pact.

The satellite states regain their independence and Europe is reunited.

After the Warsaw Pact was brought to an end and the physical border between the East and the West was removed, the satellite states became truly independent from the Soviet Union. These countries found themselves free to implement the policies they wanted and were free for the first time in decades.

Every satellite state abandoned communism. It is interesting to see how quickly economic and political ideas changed in these states: most are now part of the European Union, a political and economic union which promotes capitalism and free trade between its member states. Many of the satellite states joined the European Union in 2004, less than 15 years since they became independent of the Soviet Union. There is no doubt that communism no longer resides in these countries.

A map of EU member states and potential members, 2020.

TASK THREE: Narrative account

Attempt the following narrative account question based on the past three lessons we have had:

Write a narrative account analysing the main developments in the collpase of Soviet control of Eastern Europe.

You may use the following in your answer:
– The impact of the Sinatra Doctrine
– Developments in East Germany

You must use information of your own [8 marks]

Remember to use your Cold War packs to help you answer this question. You must order your three points in chronological order, and you need to show how they link together as you are writing.

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