Lessons from History: Europe and the fall of the Berlin Wall

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Lessons from History: Europe and the fall of the Berlin Wall


In an era where our security environment seems increasingly and ever-more rapidly subject to complex, global and interconnected challenges, it is important to regularly ‘go back to basics’: take a step back and understand history’s profound effects on our world, allowing us to better prepare for the future. Friends of Europe will look back at previous efforts in history to make peace and the lessons we can draw from those experiences to solve today’s conflicts.

With 30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the beginning of the end of the Cold War, this event will explore the outcomes of this peaceful movement and its successes and failures in the course of German and European (re-)unification. In the context of today’s multi-faceted challenges within Europe and beyond, we aim to draw conclusions and lessons from the events around the fall of the Berlin Wall.

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Lessons from History: Europe and the fall of the Berlin Wall Expand Lessons from History: Europe and the fall of the Berlin Wall

Our third Lessons from History event will explore lessons from the fall of the Berlin Wall and the international response. Thirty years ago, in fall 1989, thousands of East Germans crossed peacefully into the West as border guards stood down, collapsing a 44-year rift through the heart of Europe. This unexpected event turbo-charged the end of the Cold War and shifted the European balance of power. The fall of the Berlin Wall was triggered by a wave of peaceful movements across the Eastern bloc and followed a change in approach by Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev and his reform agenda. From the dismantling of Hungary’s border with Austria to the victory of Solidarity in Poland to the Baltic Way, the fall of the Berlin Wall was the culmination of a pan-European social movement. Yet ultimately disillusionment followed initial euphoria – hopes for a united Europe and a new era of engagement with Russia have only partially been realised. Former ‘Soviet bloc’ countries were integrated into the EU and the transatlantic alliance, however economic and political divides persisted between Eastern and Western Europe. With a focus on the direct and indirect outcomes of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany, and reflecting on international responses, we aim to share lessons learned with the audience.

• How should we remember the events of 1989 today? As an occasion of joy and even euphoria as it was thirty years ago? Was it possible then to construct a more united and peaceful Europe than the one we live in today?

• Or should we remember the fall of the Berlin Wall as a difficult birth to a new Germany and a new Europe, even if no longer divided by walls, divided by mentalities?

• How did the fall of the Berlin Wall impact the creation of a new post-Cold War world order? What is left from the hopes and ambitions of this aspirational era?

• What lessons can be learned by social movements today from the peaceful protests in the run-up to November 1989?

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