Thirty Years Ago, the Berlin Wall Fell. Meet Modern Germany, OZY Style

People climbing on the Berlin Wall at the Brandenburg Gate shortly after its opening.

Source Peter Timmullstein bild via Getty

Why you should care

Thirty years ago, the Berlin Wall came crashing down. But what does that mean for modern Germany?

This is an OZY Special Briefing, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead.

WHAT TO KNOW

What happened? On Saturday, Germany will mark the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, a moment that came about when on Nov. 9, 1989, East German Politburo spokesman Günter Schabowski told a room full of reporters that the socialist nation’s citizens could cross to the West using all border crossings, effective immediately. But the fallout of that haphazard announcement continues to shape Germany today, even as new challenges emerge. OZY’s States of the Nation: Germany, an unparalleled six-week journey through the country’s 16 states, uncovers some of the new bridges and barriers that Deutschland is grappling with three decades later. 

Why does it matter? It’s tempting to focus on history’s big moments and see the fall of the wall as a decisive ending. But in a way very different from the Cold War, Germany today is once again at the center of key global debates around migration, populism, the economic slowdown and climate change. And its choices may once more carry an impact beyond its borders, while offering lessons to others. 

HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT

Migration nation. The legacy of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision in 2015 to admit a wave of migrants during Europe’s refugee crisis is playing out in complex ways. On the one hand, it’s leading to a surge in popularity for the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party in unlikely places, such as Germany’s historically leftist bastion of Thuringia. At the same time, the southern state of Baden-Württemberg has found that economics — not politics — is the way to integrate migrants while also beating back xenophobic nationalism. It is training migrants to fill holes in the state’s economy, helping keep overall unemployment low, and incomes high. 

Green Germany. Few natural wonders are more iconically German than the Black Forest … and climate change may have signed its death warrant, with black beetles (which thrive in warmer temperatures) eating their way through Germany’s spruce trees. German foresters in Baden-Württemberg, though, are using the beetles to make way for other trees rather than try to save the spruce. Meanwhile, Brandenburg, historically a coal-producing region, is increasingly turning to green energy. 

More money, more problems. Once a bastion of postwar industrial supremacy, Bremen is today burdened with the highest level of income inequality of any German state — despite boasting the second-highest gross domestic product per capita. In the country’s east, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern lost its industry after reunification, and workers fled to the west. Now, Asian investment is helping to revive its shipping sector, bringing back jobs

WHAT TO READ

For Millions of Germans, the Berlin Wall Never Really Came Down, by Lin Hierse on OZY

“My life was not going to be defined by the political reality of a divided country or the echoes of the Cold War. I was to learn about the GDR from history books and the older generation’s kitchen table anecdotes only — or at least so I thought.”

What Happened the Day the Berlin Wall Fell, by Albinko Hasic in Time

“Citizens flocked to the border en masse sometime around 9:00 pm and found that, after initial confusion, the border guards were indeed letting people cross.”

WHAT TO WATCH

Nov. 9, 1989: The Berlin Wall Falls

“East German authorities have said in essence that the Berlin Wall doesn’t mean anything anymore.”

Watch on ABC News on YouTube:

How Germans Divided by the Berlin Wall Felt When It Fell

“Thousands of people poured across the wall and thousands of other people waited in the damp cold to greet them.”

Watch on Inside Edition on YouTube:


WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER

How the sausage gets made. Wolfsburg, Germany, boasts the largest car factory in the world, a Volkswagen plant that employs 60,000 people. But its bestselling product isn’t cars; it’s sausage — a special Volkswagen currywurst that’s fed to the employees and distributed around the country.

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