October 3, 1990, marked the official end on the East German state and the final days of the Cold War. But the story of the reunification of Germany started a year earlier. On this 28th anniversary of the reunification of Germany, I am reminded of my time on the inter-German border, and when the wall came down.
In February 1987 I was on my final tour at Observation Post Alpha on the inter-German border. At that time, in my little corner of the world, tensions along the border were still high. Soviet Hind-D helicopters were still playing cat-and-mouse games with American COBRA attack helicopters. Our patrols along the border went on, trailed at all times by East German soldiers and occasionally a Red Army shadow. The view from the American observation tower looked out across the death zone, an area that really defies description, even though death zone seems pretty descriptive.
My two tours at OP Alpha included roving patrols and foot patrols along the border. Endless hours in the tower, watching the East Germans, and their Soviet counterparts watching us watch them. Hours upon hours of sheer boredom, punctuated by minutes of sheer terror and confusion.
The very idea that the border would come down in a little more than two years was little more than fantasy.
In June 1987, then-President Reagan said, “Mr. Gorbechav, tear down this wall” while making a speech near the Berlin Wall.
In January 1989, when widespread protests against the East German government began, East German leader Erich Honecker declared “The Wall will stand in 50, even 100 years.”
In September 1989, Hungary opened its borders to the west, which allowed East German “tourists” to escape into Austria.
On October 7, 1989, East Germany celebrated its 40th anniversary.
On October 18, 1989, East German leader Erich Honecker resigned citing health reasons, while anti-government protests grew.
On November 4, 1989, more than a half-million protesters joined a pro-democracy demonstration across East Germany.
On November 9, 1989, the East German government sent out a garbled message. It was supposed to say that East Germans could go to the West the following day if they applied for an exit visa. What was actually said during a press conference by Egon Krenz, Honecker’s successor, was that the border checkpoints would be opened immediately. East Germans instantly crowded border crossings, which could have been a disaster as East German border guards were trained to shoot to kill. Cooler heads prevailed, and the border crossings were opened.
I cannot imagine the chaos that must have ensued at OP Alpha when the border was opened.
Over the next year East and West Germany became one Germany. The last patrol of the 1/11 Armored Cavalry returned to OP Alpha. The Inter-German border, and the Berlin Wall were torn down.
On November 9, 1989, I was three months removed from the Army. I sat watching TV on my parents’ living room couch as the wall came down, with tears in my eyes. The next day, I had to go back to school, where I was four years older than my fellow students. No one on campus really understood what had unfolded the night before. But I did.
The Berlin Wall has now been gone longer than it existed.
My son has grown up in a world where there was only one Germany.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.