Thursday 9pm – 10pm, BBC4
The Berlin wall, or Berliner Mauer in German, was created in 1961 by the then German Democratic Republic (GDR, East Germany), a sign that tensions between the Eastern Bloc and the West was deteriorating. For many years previously the GDR had sought to protect it’s beliefs and ways of living, fuelled by anti-western propaganda in the USSR, it built the wall as the ‘Anti-facist Protection Rampart’, and changed the lives of hundreds of thousands in the city. The Berlin Wall restricted movement to the Western side of the city, where people could travel onwards to West Germany and beyond. Before the wall was erected some 3.5 million people escaped from GDR through West Berlin. Once the wall was erected it could be a death sentence for those trying to get over the wall – over 100000 people tried to escape from the GDR to the West, with only 5000 people succeeding and an estimated 200 people being killed when trying. The Berlin Wall symbolised much more than just a physical barrier to people, it formed the political symbol of the Iron Curtain.
In 1989 a series of political revolutions and unrest, particularly in Hungary and Poland, paved the way for the fall of the wall, a chain reaction spread and forced the GDR to change. In this documentary, John Simpson marks the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall, and during the programme, the longest serving BBC correspondent reveals how he believes this was the most important story he has ever covered. John goes back to his reports from the time and imparts his interpretation of the events, arguing that the fall of the wall came down to a simple mistake by a Politburo spokesman on live TV. He believes the mistake by the spokesman that a relaxation on travel would take effect immediately, and not in the future, was picked up by West German TV and spread like wildfire across Berlin. Border checkpoints, such as Checkpoint Charlie, soon found people from both sides queuing up to reunite. It wasn’t long after this event that the sledge-hammers came out and the reunification of Germany was underway.
Witnessing these events John states “When you saw the ugliest and most menacing structure in the world knocked down in front of your eyes, anything seemed possible”. He looks back on his thoughts and forecast for what would happen in the world when the wall came down, querying whether he was wrong to be so optimistic at the time.
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