Fall of the Berlin Wall

Posted on November 5, 2009 by Alexandra Avakian

Silhouette of a man chiseling away pieces of the Berlin Wall

1989 was already a great year: I had covered the Palestinian Intifada, the war in Nagorno-Karabakh, Glasnost and Perestroika in Moscow, the death of Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran, among other stories for Time Magazine and the New York Times.

On the evening of November 5, I was sitting on a friend's couch in Paris glued to my shortwave radio. Hour by hour the story became more exciting: the Berlin Wall might be coming down. That morning at five a.m. I jumped on a plane headed to Berlin. By the time I landed I had an assignment for LIFE Magazine. I found a two-star hotel whose best features were close proximity to the Wall and a gossipy owner who passed on the latest whispers he'd heard about the Wall.

The next morning I awoke before dawn and walked along the Wall, looking for pictures. I found a group of young West German men slamming the Wall with a hammer. It looked as if they had been at it all night. Suddenly water cannon started blasting through the crack the young men had made in the Wall. East German border guards were trying to push us away with the hard freezing blast of water. I made lots of pictures but one frame would become famous.

At a certain point I got up on the top of the Wall with some protesters to photograph. The East German soldiers came up too and forced us back down. It was not at all clear that the Berlin Wall would actually open or that it would go peacefully.

That night I was walking along the Wall and what seemed like tens of thousands of people were standing near Brandenburg Gate at the Wall. I knew I could never fight my way through that crowd to the base of the Wall, so I let the crowd carry me along in the general direction I thought I needed to go. I ended up in front of the Wall where I stood all night long in a denim jacket and flimsy Keds, so freezing I thought I would break in two. It ended up being the best spot. Sometime before dawn border guards and workers came and started systematically dismantling the Wall right in front of us. I was handed one of the very first chunks of Wall to be officially broken--it still sits on my desk.

By dawn people were streaming through the break in the wall. The next three days Berlin was joyful and it seemed nobody slept--the fall of the Berlin Wall was a rare peaceful resolution to a potentially dangerous event. Within days I was off to Prague to photograph the Velvet Revolution. » Fall of the Berlin Wall Photo Gallery

Avakian's Berlin Wall slide show is being projected continuously on the Newseum's 40 ft Atrium screen as part of Foto Week DC and the Newseum's exhibit Berlin Wall. » www.newseum.org/news/news.aspx?item=nh_BERL091103&style=f » www.fotoweekdc.org/events/listing.aspx?id=374

Filed Under: GermanyPhotography

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