After the Berlin Wall Fell

berlin wall, 11-10-89 AP (file)

The anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall may not be until Monday, but the party has already started.

A U2 concert used The Brandenburg Gate as a convenient backdrop.

When the Wall ran through it, the Gate sat in the middle of a divided city and was the symbol of a divided world.

Now, search lights are merely visual effects piercing the night sky, rather than scanning No Man's Land for East Germans trying to escape to the West.

The main players that night 20 years ago were the people of East Berlin, who after months of mounting protest, finally called the bluff of the East German authorities.

But it was the behind-the-scenes players who really determined events that night, mostly by doing nothing, reports CBS News Correspondent Mark Phillips.

Then-Soviet leader Michael Gorbachev had refused to back the desperate GDR regime.

Then-President George Bush refused to gloat as the Wall came down.

Then-German Chancellor Helmut Kohl went on to become the leader of a re-united Germany, an outcome neither he nor any of the others had planned but that they each now say could not have happened without them.

"I might harbor a single hope, it would be that future generations might look back at the moment in time when mankind really got it right," former President George W. Bush said.

"I remember my grandma calling, 'There is a never-ending convoy of cars leaving for the west side, what is going on?'" Benjamin Walther told Phillips.

Walther was 14 when the Wall fell. He didn't leave - he stayed in East Berlin, where he's carved out a nice career in information technology marketing. Walthermarvels at the changes in the life he might have led.

"Maybe I would have left the country, escaping, working in some rundown East German company," Walther told Phillips. "It wouldn't have been easy."

It still isn't easy for many. East German industry, without government subsidy, could not compete. The economy shrank by an estimated 50 percent. The MZ Motorcycle plant, for example, used to employ 3,000. Today, a couple of dozen are left.

The Eastern landscape is littered with the ruins of former state-supported enterprises. A million people have gone West looking for work.

Many of them may have come this weekend to Berlin's Eastside Gallery, formerly known as the Berlin Wall.

Part of the commemoration of the Wall coming down has been to refurbish what's left of it. The original paintings on it have been restored, an ugly interlude in history literally painted over.

And 20 years later, another party like no other is about to be relived.
  • Mark Phillips

    Mark Phillips returned to the CBS News London bureau as a correspondent in 1993. He has covered many major stories since then, including the war in the Balkans, the death of Princess Diana and the weapons inspection conflicts in Iraq.

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