Why Was the Berlin Wall Torn Down?

The Berlin Wall was torn down as a symbol of the fall of the repressive East German communist government. When East Germans were finally allowed to freely enter West Germany, on Nov. 9, 1989, thousands of Germans responded emotionally by demolishing the wall with sledgehammers, pickaxes and other implements.

Although the city of Berlin was 100 miles into the Soviet occupation zone after World War II, it was divided into two sectors. One was administered by the western allies and the other by the Soviet Union. By 1961, so many East Germans had defected to West Germany that Russian premier Nikita Khrushchev authorized construction of the Berlin Wall, ostensibly to keep out western spies but in fact to keep East Germany's citizens from escaping. As years passed and escape attempts continued, the wall became larger and more elaborate. Its final version was 12 feet high and 4 feet wide, and had a no-man's land full of floodlights, guard dogs, barbed wire, machine guns and soldiers on the East German side.

After Mikhail Gorbachev became the leader of the Soviet Union and Cold War restrictions were eased, East Germans began to leave the country, flooding across borders in Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Massive protests broke out in East Germany. When Communist party boss Gunter Schabowski announced that free travel to the west was allowed, crowds on both sides gathered at the wall. Demolition commenced that night, first with hand tools wielded by the crowd and later with bulldozers and cranes.