Nov. 9 marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the iconic barrier that completely enclosed East Berlin between 1961 and 1989 and symbolized the height of Cold War tensions.
Around the world, the international German community and others are marking the milestone with celebrations and shared memories. In Germany, artists have recreated the Wall with illuminated white balloons along the path that the structure once traced. The 8,000 balloons stretch more than nine miles across the city, according to the German embassy in London.
With the anniversary putting the Cold War fresh in most people’s minds, here are nine facts about the Berlin Wall that may be new to you:
• A mistake helped lead to the fall of the Wall. The flood of East Germans and West Germans to the Wall, which led to its ultimate collapse, came after East German Politburo member Guenther Schabowski on Nov. 9, 1989, mistakenly announced that East Germans would be allowed to cross into West Germany effective immediately, according to National Public Radio.
• What the world saw as the Berlin Wall was actually two concrete barriers with a 160-yard “death strip” in between that included watchtowers, trenches, runs for guard dogs, flood lights and trip-wire machine guns, according to History.com.
• Parts of the Wall are on display or in private safekeeping all over the world. One section of the Wall is in a men’s room of the Main Street Casino in Las Vegas, History.com reports. Urinals are mounted on the graffiti-covered segment, which is protected by glass. Another section is in the gardens of the Vatican. If you don’t feel like traveling to Italy or Vegas to see a part of the Wall, you can have your own little slice for as little as $10 on eBay. And you can consider that a steal; an 8,000-pound slab went for $23,500 at an Atlanta auction
• A mass exodus of East Germans into West Germany began almost 15 years before the Berlin Wall was erected in 1961. In fact, so many left that by the time the Wall went up, East Germany lost one-sixth of its population, according to the Berlin Wall Memorial website.
• The Wall and several U.S. presidents shared a relationship. President Kennedy visited in the summer of 1963, not long before his assassination that November. He said in a rousing speech that Berlin could help the world understand the divisions between the Communist and non-Communist world.
In 1987, Reagan challenged Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “Tear down this wall” during a June 1987 speech near the Wall.
When Clinton visited in 1994, he told the crowd of Berliners, “You have proved that no Wall can forever contain the mighty power of freedom.”
During President Obama’s June 2013 visit, he noted neither he nor German Chancellor Angela Merkel looked like their predecessors.
“The fact that we can stand here today, along the fault line where a city was divided, speaks to an eternal truth: No wall can stand against the yearning of justice, the yearnings for freedom, the yearnings for peace that burns in the human heart,” he said.
• The formal reunification of East and West Germany did not happen until Oct. 3, 1990, almost a year after the fall of the Wall, according to History.com.
• A July 1988 concert by Bruce Springsteen in East Berlin may have led to the growing sense of dissent in the walled city that contributed to the fall of the Wall, according to the CBC. “The Boss” told the crowd in German, “I’ve come to play rock ‘n’ roll for you in the hope that one day all the barriers will be torn down.”
Another in the U.S. music industry, conductor Leonard Bernstein, performed a series of concerts in venues on both sides of the barrier just weeks after the November 1989 fall of the Wall. Bernstein’s international orchestra included musicians from the four countries that had occupied Berlin after World War II: the United States, the former Soviet Union, France and England. Bernstein led Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and altered its final movement, “Ode to Joy,” to become “Ode to Freedom.”
• Some parts of the barrier became world famous. Checkpoint Charlie, formally known as Checkpoint C, was the nickname that Western Allies gave the best-known border crossing point between East and West Berlin.
Also, the Brandenburg Gate is an 18th-century arch that is built on the site of a former gate that marked the start of a road that led from Berlin to the town of Brandenburg. Because of its location, it was associated with the Berlin Wall for a time.
• The physical demolition of the Berlin Wall was not complete until 1992, according to the BBC.