Not Everyone’s Dancing Where Wall Was

by Daniel McGroarty

Investor’s Business Daily
ran a wonderful article by former White House speechwriter Dan McGroarty about the fall of the Berlin Wall. The full text can be read on

Twenty years ago, late on a Thursday evening in Berlin, the cement and concertina-wire symbol of the Cold War was breached, inadvertently opened by a botched answer of a flustered East German Communist Party apparatchik.
Announcing a loosening in border-crossing policy, he was peppered with questions on when the change would take effect.

“Immediately,” he said, shuffling his notes. “Without delay.” “Also in Berlin?” presses a reporter. “Yes, yes,” comes the response.

Reporters rush to file; word is broadcast over Western media stations on the channels no East German is allowed to watch, but everyone does. The streets fill as people head for the Wall.

The rest, as they say, is history: Bewildered East Germans step past the feared Grenztruppen border guards, their rifles shouldered and dogs at bay, across the death strips and into West Berlin.

Growing more confident, some straddle the Wall, improvising implements to chip away chunks of cement, while still others wander deeper into the Western zone, looking for vegetable vendors where bananas might be bought — every day, and not just on Christmas. If all proved a dream, let some at least bring back from their walk in the West a piece of forbidden fruit.

The fact of the Wall’s fall is captured in the news clips rebroadcast today. Its cause and consequences took much longer to unpack — in some ways, we are doing so still.

Witness the small library of new books that marks today’s commemoration, 20 years after. Some subscribe to the “great man” theory of history (apologies to Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher), others to what we can call the “chaos theory,” capturing the mosaic of micro-actions that brought the Wall down.

On the one end stands Ronald Reagan’s Jericho riff at the Brandenburg Gate; at the other, the squabble to claim credit as the unidentified reporter whose shouted question — “also in Berlin?” — toppled the Wall.

Somewhere in the middle — closer to the center of events, and perhaps closer also to the truth — stand Mikhail Gorbachev, Helmut Kohl and George H.W. Bush. Each of them would abjure the megaphone in favor of constant confidential communications to manage the Cold War’s last crisis to its peaceful conclusion.

No one in those first moments knew whether the East German government and its Soviet overlords would meet the Berlin breach with an iron fist or velvet glove. The events of Nov. 9, 1989 were fraught with contingency. The events we now wrap in a celebratory glow evoked the ghosts of 1956 and 1968 — or even nearer in time, Tiananmen Square just five months earlier.