The picture above is one that I took while on my trip to Washington DC this past October. The sign, found in the Newseum, originally hung in the American sector of West Berlin. It features the phrase “You are leaving the American sector” in English, Russian, French, and German. The use of these languages on the sign reflects the political structure of the city at the time. Berlin, as recognized by the Western Allies, was broken up into four sections: American, British, French, and Russian. As recognized by the Soviet Union, East Berlin acted as the capital of East Germany. This claim, however, was not recognized by the Allies; they considered Berlin as being under the administration of four powers, with East Berlin representing the Russian sector of the city.

          The Berlin Wall, like the sign above, also reflected the political structure of its time. Hope M. Harrison, on the Wilson Center site, describes its construction for the Cold War International History Project. She writes:

Fifty years ago on August 13, 1961, the East Germans sealed their border with West Berlin, beginning what would become known as the Berlin Wall.

Overnight, families, friends, lovers, classmates, and others were cut off from each other, and seventeen million East Germans became prisoners. Streets,

subway lines, and waterways were closed off between East and West Berlin and between West Berlin and the surrounding East German countryside.

Since the creation of East Germany in 1949 until 1961, over two million East Germans had fled communism for freedom in the West. The East German leader

Walter Ulbricht had been pushing the Soviets for over eight years for permission to close the border. The Soviets had long resisted, arguing that the

entire communist bloc would look terrible if they sealed the border in Berlin to stop the refugee exodus; it would be an admission of failure. Yet Ulbricht

never gave up his fight to close the border, and he finally received Soviet permission and support in late July 1961…

The construction of the Berlin Wall represented the political atmosphere of the early Cold War period. It was a physical manifestation of the “Iron Curtain” described by Winston Churchill, and stood as a barrier between two dominant opposing ideologies.

          Its destruction, accordingly, symbolized political realities just as its construction had done. On the site Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, a subject essay by James von Geldern describes how the fall of the Berlin Wall paired with the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact to create major problems for the Soviet Union. He writes,  “For seventy years, the Soviet state had built a complex web of alliances and relationships that protected it from hostile neighbors and foreign powers. Shattered by the German invasion of 1941, the defense web was consolidated by the signing of the Warsaw Pact, giving the Soviet state thirty-five years of tense security. Weakened first by the Solidarity Movement and eventual free elections in Poland; the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989; the deposition of the Czechoslovak Communist Party, and of Bulgarian Communist leader Todor Zhivkov; and the bloody fall of Nicolae Ceaucescu in Rumania; the web of international relations simply no longer existed. Ringed by so many Soviet republics demanding the right to secede and appearing increasingly hostile, Russia stood alone.”

          The annihilation of the physical barrier between the East and the West symbolized the dissolving buffer zones between ideologies. The fall of the Berlin Wall, and the crumbling of the Warsaw Pact, preceded the collapse of the Soviet Union. In an article entitled “Aleksandr Tsipko: ‘I DON’T WANT TO BE AN ACCOMPLICE TO MURDER.’The Well-Known Political Scientist Believes That Millions of People Today Are Doomed to Suffer From the Selfishness of Newly Hatched Politicians”, a Russian political scientist expresses his opinions about the Soviet Union’s dissolution. He laments that “…there is nothing to be happy about. We are all present at the funeral of the state in which we were born and in which our forebears lived. Whatever our attitude toward it was, it was still our country. Now the old, real Russia is dying for good, our homeland is dying. … May all those who are dreaming of a new homeland attain satisfaction and happiness in the new fatherland. But personally I will always remain a citizen of the old, big, dead Russia. I am not criticizing anyone, only expressing regret. Strictly speaking, there is no one to blame. An ill fate is propelling our Russian Republic’s history.”

         The collapse of the Soviet Union, brought on by various factors that have been analyzed thoroughly since 1991, will forever be remembered as one of the biggest events in both Russian and World history. It was an event that drastically altered the political, economic, and social structures of the world. Although many (like political scientist Aleksandr Tsipko) mourned its passing, in hindsight it appears inevitable. As Vladimir Putin said:

Anyone who doesn’t regret the passing of the Soviet Union has no heart. Anyone who wants it restored has no brains.