Looking back: Fall of Berlin Wall

November 12, 2009 2:05:40 PM PST
It was the end of a Germany split between Communism and Democracy. It also marked the end of the Cold War and the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe. Two Houstonians were at the forefront of this world event, and Eyewitness News talked with former President George H.W. Bush and former Secretary of State James Baker, III, while in Berlin as they reflected on that historic time.

West Germans cheered Ronald Reagan when he said those six famous words in 1987: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall."

His successor followed his lead in the quest for an opening in the Iron Curtain.

"You had to see it," President Bush said. "You had to feel it to understand the ugliness of it all."

President Bush witnessed the wall and what it stood for.

"That wall stands as a monument to the failure of Communism," he said two decades ago. "It must come down."

Eleven months into office, it did.

"It was amazing," President Bush said. "It was an amazing feeling that the wall was coming down."

It was the beginning of the end of Communism in Eastern Europe and a 40-year long Cold War between the US and Soviets.

"There was the feeling that this might end up being a hot war -- not a Cold War -- but a hot war," he said. "Nobody wanted that."

Reuniting the democratic West Germany -- controlled by the US, France and Great Britain -- and the communist East Germany -- controlled by the Soviets -- was not easy.

President Bush credits his right hand man, former Secretary of State Baker.

"He's a good man," he said. "It's nice to have somebody at that level who would tell the president exactly what he felt, and then would be loyal enough to march out and salute if it didn't go his way."

Baker said the US faced some resistance in its goal of reuniting the two German states.

"It was really the Americans and the Germans working together who got it accomplished," Baker said. "The British and the French are longtime allies in all of the wars," he said. "We fought in the last century in Europe were likewise unenthusiastic -- worried that history might repeat itself."

It was a unique diplomatic accomplishment, which was the result of many hands reaching over hard, historical lines. Eyewitness News was with President Bush and Barbara Bush when they were reunited with leaders of that time in Berlin for the 20th anniversary.

"It's wonderful (to meet up with them) because I consider them friends," President Bush said. "Not only world leaders, but friends."

"It's very exciting for all of us, and a big day for Berlin," Mrs. Bush said.

President Bush was joined here by former president Mikhail Gorbachev and former chancellor Helmut Kohl as a nation gives thanks to these three statesmen.

The three former leaders of the US, Soviet Union and Germany share a will for freedom and a strong sense of trust.

"The point needs to be made that the historic events we are gathered to celebrate were set in motion not in Bonn, Moscow or Washington," President Bush said, "but rather in the hearts and minds of people who for too long were deprived of their God-given rights."

They are all quick to pass along credit. Gorbachev tried to steer away from all the cameras.

"Perhaps we are valuable in the fact that we are very historical figures that were there at a time when things were changing," Gorbachev said. "We did everything to stop the Cold War and people want to know about us and remember us."

While President Bush observed the anniversary in Berlin, Baker welcomed his foreign minister counterparts to the Baker Institute at Rice University.

"The Cold War really did not have to end peacefully -- it could have ended with bang instead of a whimper," Baker said.

Two decades later, history reflects on this peaceful revolution.

"Berlin has always been a place which was full of hope for me," Kohl said. "One can say that Mikhail Gorbachev and George Bush were the most important partners."

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