As Germany is getting ready to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the collapse of the Wall, I was happy to discover The Collapse: The Accidental Opening of the Berlin Wall by Mary Elise Sarotte. It is a newly published, very timely, book. Growing up with family in both East Germany and West Berlin, the Wall had always been very tangible for us. In 1988, we went to East Germany and experienced the oddness of having to provide a travel itinerary to East German police, of not being able to meet people because they worked for the post office, and of waiting for hours while border guards searched our car before being allowed back into West Germany.
During 1989, we watched with quiet excitement and hope as more and more East Germans sought refuge on the grounds of West German embassies in Budapest, Prague, and Warsaw and the peace meetings in front of the Nikolai Church in Leipzig continuously grew in size. A few days after the Wall fell, we went to Berlin and experienced the unlimited joy that came with the open border.
I was too young then to fully understand everything that was happening. As I read The Collapse, I realized that this was a book I had unknowingly been waiting for. It outlines events, explains their meaning and consequences, and gives names to people. Some I vaguely remember, but others I have never considered, like Aram Radomski and Siggi Schefke, who shot secret video footage of the peaceful demonstration in Leipzig on October 9—a key event that fall.
Sarotte argues that while Gorbachev’s reforms and Reagan’s call to “tear down this wall” created a situation in which a collapse of the Wall was possible, it took a series of unplanned events to happen in just the right order for the collapse to actually happen. She focuses on about a dozen people who played a crucial part during the tense months of October and November 1989. Based on interviews, memoirs, and a good number of Secret Police (Stasi) files, she has created a cohesive and moving narrative of the public and private figures who willingly or unwittingly helped to bring down the Wall. I found it fascinating.
This book brought back many memories, and I am incredibly glad I read it. (I don’t expect the average reader to be moved to tears while reading, as I was.) It is meticulously researched and very well written. While it is a scholarly book—almost 50% of the eBook are made up of footnotes—this should not deter anyone from reading it. Even if you are not particularly interested in history or Germany, you will still find an entertaining and at times gripping account of a peaceful revolution. There aren’t many of those in mankind’s history. I highly recommend you read The Collapse.
If you want to see how Berlin is celebrating the collapse of the wall, click here.
And don’t forget to check out lots of other great nonfiction posts assembled by Kim.