When the Wall Came Down: The Berlin Wall and the Fall of Soviet Communism

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This is history as only an eyewitness can tell it. In 1989, veteran journalist Serge Schmemann was in his hotel room when his assistant from East Germany burst in with some incredible news: the Berlin Wall was open. Serge jumped into the first cab he could find and raced to the wall in time to witness one of the great moments of European history.

Including articles from the archives of The New York Times, this gripping narrative tells the whole story, from the division of ...

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Overview

This is history as only an eyewitness can tell it. In 1989, veteran journalist Serge Schmemann was in his hotel room when his assistant from East Germany burst in with some incredible news: the Berlin Wall was open. Serge jumped into the first cab he could find and raced to the wall in time to witness one of the great moments of European history.

Including articles from the archives of The New York Times, this gripping narrative tells the whole story, from the division of Germany after World War II, to life in the Communist East, to the massive protests that brought an end to the Eastern Bloc, and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Publishers Weekly

This compelling account of the Berlin Wall's demise and the subsequent fall of the Eastern Bloc launches a new line of New York Times books...This standout debut should captivate readers' interest in one of the most climactic events of the late 20th century.

Children's Literature

This is a well-written look at the fall of the Berlin Wall, the events leading up to it, and the realities a united Germany faced after the wall's demise...Photographs throughout the text are well chosen and show the human aspect of the decades-long engagement.

VOYA

A very valuable history of the end of the Cold War in Germany.

School Library Journal

This book offers more complete coverage than Jeremy Smith's The Fall of the Berlin Wall (World Almanac Library, 2004), and Schmemann's personal perspective and the numerous articles will help readers understand the intensity of feeling that surrounded this event.

Publishers Weekly
This compelling account of the Berlin Wall's demise and the subsequent fall of the Eastern Bloc launches a new line of New York Times books, and is written by the chief correspondent who covered these events. Schmemann instantly draws in readers by opening on November 9, 1989 (the day the wall fell). The immediacy of his first-person narrative, combined with carefully chosen details, bring to life the events leading up to the building of the wall in 1961 and its destruction 28 years later. Some of the most revealing details come from Schmemann's own experience, such as how his American passport allowed him to cross through Checkpoint Charlie while East Germans were legally (and physically) prohibited from entering West Germany, or how in 1992 when the files of East Germany's secret police were opened, one of the author's West Berlin sources was revealed as a Soviet spy. Readers will come away with a clear understanding of how WWII's Yalta Agreement and the cold war contributed to East Berlin erecting the wall and how Gorbachev's reforms acted as a catalyst for East Germans to bring the wall down. Archival and often poignant photographs from the Times supplement the text, along with a concluding section with Times articles (including the role East German teens played in the protests), maps of Europe's changing borders, a timeline and a list of further reading. This standout debut should captivate readers' interest in one of the most climactic events of the late 20th century. Ages 12-up. (May) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
VOYA
Correspondent Schmemann received a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on Germany's reunification. He describes the rise and defeat of the Nazis and the events that made Berlin and Germany a focal point for the Cold War. He then describes life in divided Germany and the events that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany. A writer with a unique perspective, Schmemann creates an informative and quite readable account. The volume is well illustrated with black-and-white photos. Although he projects a slightly pro-West slant, Schmemann does not shrink from describing the challenges, both economic and social, that the reunified Germany faced. The majority of the book is what can be described as Schmemann's memoir of his time as a correspondent. Larger events are linked to those memories. It tends to humanize the events and make them more accessible to the reader. Schmemann also includes a section of reprints of newspaper articles. These are linked to the first section and allow the reader to compare the objective, journalistic report with Schmemann's perspective. Although this section also includes reports from China, Romania, and Czechoslovakia, Schmemann's focus is on Germany. It makes the book less valuable as a general history of the fall of the Soviet Union, but it is nonetheless a very valuable history of the end of the Cold War in Germany. VOYA CODES: 4Q 2P J S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; For the YA with a special interest in the subject; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2006, Kingfisher/Houghton Mifflin, 128p.; Index. Illus. Photos. Maps. Biblio. Further Reading., Ages 12 to 18.
—Steven Kral
Children's Literature
This is a well-written look at the fall of the Berlin Wall, the events leading up to it, and the realities a united Germany faced after the wall's demise. The book is set up in eight chapters followed by related sections. The first chapter begins with the author's memory of the day the wall came down and is followed by chapters that re-examine the history of Germany from the point at which it tried to become a world power in the 1870s through two world wars and a cold war, and ending with Germany today and the challenges it has faced culturally, socially, and economically because of reunification. Schmemann also includes a dozen articles, mainly by him when he was bureau chief for The New York Times and a time line of the rise and fall of the wall and the politics surrounding it. Photographs throughout the text are well chosen and show the human aspect of the decades-long engagement. 2006, Kingfisher/Houghton Mifflin, Ages 12 to 16.
—Jean Boreen, Ph.D.
VOYA - Steven Kral
Schmemann was a correspondent in Germany for the New York Times and received a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on Germany's reunification. He describes the rise and defeat of the Nazis, the events that made Berlin and Germany a focal point for the Cold War, life in divided Germany, and the events that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany. A writer with a unique perspective, Schmemann creates an informative and very readable book. The volume is well illustrated with many color photos. Although the book has a slightly pro-West slant, Schmemann does not shrink from describing the challenges that the reunified Germany faced, both economic and social. The majority of the book is what can be described as Schmemann's memoir of his time as a correspondent. Larger occurrences are linked to his personal memories. This juxtaposition tends to humanize the events and make them more accessible to the reader. Schmemann also includes a section of newspaper article reprints. These are linked to the first section and allow the reader to compare the objective, journalistic report with Schmemann's perspective. This section also includes reports from China, Romania, and Czechoslovakia, but Schmemann's focus is on Germany. It makes the book less valuable as a general history of the fall of the Soviet Union, but a very valuable account of the end of the Cold War in Germany.
School Library Journal
Gr 6 Up-Schmemann recounts the fall of the Berlin Wall from his perspective as a reporter who covered the story for the New York Times. The first section of the book opens with his impressions of the November 9, 1989, night when the Wall was opened. He then explains how war, inflation, and depression contributed to Hitler's rise and the Second World War. He also discusses how the postwar partition of Germany and Cold War tensions led to the construction of the Wall. He credits Mikhail Gorbachev for the reforms that brought it down and ended the Cold War and concludes by examining the joys and difficulties of German reunification. The second section is a compilation of New York Times articles about the Berlin Wall, the Cold War, and German reunification, with original publication dates ranging from 1955 to 1990. The articles are cross-referenced in the text so that students can easily locate those that are relevant to each time period and topic. Well-chosen black-and-white and color photographs and maps of the city and region supplement the text. Suggestions for further reading list additional New York Times articles by subject. This book offers more complete coverage than Jeremy Smith's The Fall of the Berlin Wall (World Almanac Library, 2004), and Schmemann's personal perspective and the numerous articles will help readers understand the intensity of feeling that surrounded this event.-Mary Mueller, Rolla Junior High School, MO Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780753459942
  • Publisher: Kingfisher
  • Publication date: 5/10/2006
  • Series: New York Times Series
  • Pages: 128
  • Age range: 12 - 17 Years
  • Lexile: 1240L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 8.09 (w) x 9.46 (h) x 0.61 (d)

Meet the Author

Serge Schmemann served as Bonn bureau chief for The New York Times from 1987 to 1991 and won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the reunification of Germany. Mr. Schmemann currently lives in Paris, France, where he is editorial page editor for The International Herald Tribune.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

A Knock on the Door

November 9, 1989. A chilly evening in West Berlin. I was in my hotel room,

writing furiously on my laptop. The stories were breaking fast. The

Communist government in East Germany was in crisis. All through the autumn, East Germans had been fleeing their country in droves through

Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Even greater numbers had been holding regular marches in East German cities, demanding reform. The government's authority was crumbling. Every day there were new changes, new announcements, new surprises.

I had just returned from a press conference in East Berlin, at which the

Communist leaders had announced new travel regulations for East Germans who wanted to visit the West. That was big news: up to then, the majority of

East Germans, like most Eastern Europeans, had been prevented from leaving the East. It was a good story, probably page one, so when somebody knocked on the door around midnight, I was annoyed. It was my assistant from East Berlin, Victor Homola.

"I'm busy, Victor," I barked. "Grab something from the minibar and wait."

"But, Serge…"

"Not now! Not now…"

Then it struck me: Victor? He was an East German! He wasn't allowed to cross into the West; he'd never even been to the West.

"Victor! What on earth are you doing here?"

"That's what I'm trying to tell you, Serge! The wall is down!"

That began one of the most exciting stories I've covered as a foreign correspondent: the fall of the Berlin Wall. For many, the event has come to represent the end of forty years in which Eastern Europe was held captive by the Soviet Union. But it was not only a political story. It was also an intensely human story, about people rising up to break down a wall that had kept them brutally apart—a wall that had divided Germany, and all of Europe, into a free and democratic West and an East that lived under dictatorship.

It was about people choosing freedom.

I grabbed my West German assistant, Tom Seibert, and with Victor we jumped into a taxi. The streets near the Berlin Wall were quickly filling with celebrating Germans, and the police were trying to divert traffic. The taxi driver, a big woman with a bigger voice, was yelling out the window, "Ich habe hier drei Pressefritzen!"—

"I have three press guys here!"—and the police waved us through.

We drove right up to the most important stretch of the wall—the spot where it passed by the Brandenburg Gate, once the very center of Berlin.

The Berlin Wall was a frightening sight, a twelve-foot-high concrete barrier that divided one of the major cities of Europe right in half. It did more than that—since West Berlin was deep inside East Germany, the wall actually ran all around it, creating a large urban island of the free, democratic, and brightly lit West right inside the tightly controlled Communist-ruled East. The worlds inside and outside the wall were completely different—within its wall, West

Berlin looked like any large Western city. Shiny Mercedes and BMW sedans cruised the neon-lit Kudamm—the grand Kurfürstendamm boulevard; store windows displayed the latest in fashions; restaurants and nightclubs were open late into the night. West Berlin had theaters, museums, a university,

skyscrapers, two airports, a lake, rivers, canals, parks, even a zoo. West

Berliners could easily go to West Germany, or anywhere else in Western

Europe, so they felt free and secure inside their walled-in island.

On the East German side of the wall, large blocks of anonymous apartment buildings loomed. There were far fewer shops, and everything seemed grayer and poorer. The East Germans heated their buildings with poor-quality coal,

so everything was covered with soot. Still, parts of East Berlin had retained the old-fashioned charm of a central European city, recalling old black-and-

white spy movies.

In fact, life in East Berlin was better than in Moscow and many other Eastern

European cities. But the East Germans were always aware of the bright lights in the Western island in their midst. West Germany deliberately aimed radio and television signals eastward, so it was easy for most East Germans to receive them. East German teenagers were more savvy about what was happening in the West than teenagers in other parts of Eastern Europe—and because of that they were much more frustrated. Though it was West Berlin that was encircled, many East German children grew up thinking the wall was around them. The wall itself reflected the difference between the two governments it divided—from the Eastern side, it was like a prison wall, with watchtowers and glaring lights; from the West, or from inside, it was covered with bright and ever-changing graffiti.

Before Berlin was divided, the Brandenburg Gate had been the city's most famous landmark. Now, the gate was actually part of the Berlin Wall. The main wall ran past it on the west side, while police barriers on the east formed a no man's land around it. For decades, trying to cross that no man's land had meant possible death or imprisonment for East Germans.

Now, joyful East Berliners were scaling the barriers and running to the wall.

On our side, West Germans were climbing up on top of the wall and reaching down to haul up their Eastern cousins. An observation platform on the

Western side, built so visitors could look at the Brandenburg Gate, was full of dancing people.

"The wall is gone! The wall is gone!" people chanted. As we watched, more and more East Germans poured over, and more and more West Germans gathered to greet them with tears and champagne. For thirty years, these people had dreamed of the day when they could be together again. Tom, a university student from Bonn who was my interpreter and assistant in West

Germany, was seized by the excitement and started climbing up the wall to join the party.

I grabbed him by the foot and yelled, "Not tonight! Tonight we work. Tomorrow we celebrate!" And work we did. It was close to five a.m. when we finished filing the stories. The historic front page of the next day's New York Times had my story with a picture across the whole page of people dancing in front of the Brandenburg Gate. Over it, the huge headline read: "EAST GERMANY

OPENS FRONTIER TO THE WEST FOR EMIGRATION OR VISITS;

THOUSANDS CROSS." In the popular German tabloid B.Z., a headline screamed, "Die Mauer ist Weg! Berlin ist wieder Berlin!"—"The Wall Is Gone!

Berlin Is Again Berlin!"

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Table of Contents


A Knock on the Door     10
Burdened by History     16
From World War to Cold War     23
Suddenly, a Wall Goes Up     33
The Revolution Spreads     40
The Berlin Wall Comes Tumbling Down     50
How Many Germanys?     56
Reunited!     62
Postscript     70
Articles     74
Timeline     110
Source Notes     114
Further Reading     115
Acknowledgments     119
Picture Credits     120
Index     122
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