25 Years Later: The Berlin Wall
In China, the Communists had just massacred the students in Tienanmen Square and won themselves another quarter-century in power. On the other hand, the Poles voted overwhelmingly for Solidarity in June, and by September Hungary had opened its border with the West. But it was the fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November, 1989, that really opened the flood-gates.
I had been spending a lot of time in the old Soviet Union since 1987, when I visited Moscow after a five-year absence and found the place unrecognisable. People had lost their fear: in the kitchens, and sometimes in the streets, they were saying what they really thought. It was the first time I had gone to Russia without feeling that I had left Planet Earth.
So I went home and told my friendly neighbourhood network that something very big was going to happen. I didnât know exactly what, but if they gave me a travel budget Iâd spend a couple of weeks in the Soviet bloc interviewing people every three months, and when the big thing happened Iâd give them an instant radio series on it. Networks had more money and more nerve in those days, so they said yes.
By 1989 I had kind of worked out what was going to happen, but I didnât know if it could all be done non-violently. The signs were good â I had spent much of the summer in the Soviet Union, and the first big demos had already happened peacefully in Moscow â but where and when the dam would finally break was still anybodyâs guess. Then in early September I flew from Moscow to Hungary for a quick look around on my way home.
On the way in to Budapest from the airport, the streets were full of abandoned East German cars, mostly pathetic Trabis that any sensible person would abandon. But still....