OPN 191108  Germany_Berlin_Wall-1573211609071
In this November 11, 1989 file photo, East German border guards are seen through a gap in the Berlin wall after demonstrators pulled down a segment of the wall at Brandenburg gate, Berlin. Image Credit: AP

This weekend marks the 30th anniversary of the fall for the Berlin Wall, an occasion that precipitated the end of the Cold War in Europe, and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

That great standoff between Western nations and the communist Eastern bloc brought an ever-present fear — from the days following the end of the Second World War — that an all-out nuclear conflict might break at any time, ending both societies and effectively destroying the Earth for all.

The reality is that, when thousands of East Germans streamed through the concrete structure and crossed the killing zones, where highly trained border guards had shoot-to-kill orders, few realised that the history of the late 20th Century was being so fundamentally amended. Instead, East Germans, who had been confined to the Soviet satellite nation for more than three decades simply window shopped and took great joy window shopping in West Berlin stores filled with consumer goods, clothes and products unattainable and unimagined on the eastern side.

But the fall of the wall offered the two Germanies a chance to reunite, move the western capital from Bonn back to Berlin, and end once and for all the deep divisions that had remained since Soviet soldiers fought their way to the Reichstag in May 1945 while to the west, Allied troops swept east from the beaches of Normandy a year before.

The huge economic challenges of bringing eastern factories, businesses and workplaces up to western standards was immense, so too the social challenges of integrating the former Communist state with the ideals of free enterprise and freedom of thought, movement and person. It is a challenge that was embraced, one that showed the true nature of the German work ethic and ability to achieve. Now, three decades on, it is a mission that was accomplished in a remarkable and rapid fashion.

Today, the united Germany is the economic powerhouse of Europe, it is a leader of diligence and conscience on the global stage and a partner in building peace and prosperity around the world. It is simply hard to fathom that it was a people forced into two diametrically opposing camp, separated by a ribbon of steel and towers, landmines and machine guns, and an eastern state where neighbours spied on each other to serve a state bureaucracy that incarcerated them in an open prison, and actively shot and imprisoned those who attempted to cross that wall in pursuit of freedom.

For those who flirt with the right and authoritarian values, the lesson of the Berlin Wall and the Second World War itself should bring sober second thoughts.