Cover image for The collapse : the accidental opening of the Berlin Wall
The collapse : the accidental opening of the Berlin Wall
Sarotte, M. E., author.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Basic Books, A Member of the Perseus Books Group, [2014]
Physical Description:
xxvi, 291 pages : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm
"In The Collapse historian Mary Elise Sarotte shows that the opening of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, was not, as is commonly believed, the East German government's deliberate concession to outside influence. It was an accident. A carelessly worded memo written by mid-level bureaucrats, a bumbling press conference given by an inept member of the East German Politburo, the negligence of government leaders, the bravery of ordinary people in East and West Berlin--these combined to bring about the end of nearly forty years of oppression, fear, and enmity in divided Berlin. Drawing on evidence from archives in multiple countries and languages, along with dozens of interviews with key actors, The Collapse is the definitive account of the event that brought down the East German Politburo and came to represent the final collapse of the Cold War order"--
Discovering the causes of the collapse -- The struggle within the Soviet Bloc and Saxony. A brutal status quo ; Marginal to massive ; The fight for the ring -- The competition for control in East Berlin. The Revolution advances, the regime plays for time ; Failure to communicate on November 9, 1989 -- The contest of wills at the Wall. The Revolution, televised ; Damage control? ; Violence and victory, trust and triumphalism.
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DD881 .S215 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
DD881 .S215 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
DD881 .S215 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
DD881 .S215 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
DD881 .S215 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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On the night of November 9, 1989, massive crowds surged toward the Berlin Wall, drawn by an announcement that caught the world by surprise: East Germans could now move freely to the West. The Wall--infamous symbol of divided Cold War Europe--seemed to be falling. But the opening of the gates that night was not planned by the East German ruling regime--nor was it the result of a bargain between either Ronald Reagan or George H.W. Bush and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

It was an accident.

In The Collapse , prize-winning historian Mary Elise Sarotte reveals how a perfect storm of decisions made by daring underground revolutionaries, disgruntled Stasi officers, and dictatorial party bosses sparked an unexpected series of events culminating in the chaotic fall of the Wall. With a novelist's eye for character and detail, she brings to vivid life a story that sweeps across Budapest, Prague, Dresden, and Leipzig and up to the armed checkpoints in Berlin.
We meet the revolutionaries Roland Jahn, Aram Radomski, and Siggi Schefke, risking it all to smuggle the truth across the Iron Curtain; the hapless Politburo member Günter Schabowski, mistakenly suggesting that the Wall is open to a press conference full of foreign journalists, including NBC's Tom Brokaw; and Stasi officer Harald Jäger, holding the fort at the crucial border crossing that night. Soon, Brokaw starts broadcasting live from Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, where thecrowds are exulting in the euphoria of newfound freedom--and the dictators are plotting to restore control.

Drawing on new archival sources and dozens of interviews, The Collapse offers the definitive account of the night that brought down the Berlin Wall.

Author Notes

Mary Elise Sarotte is Visiting Professor of Government and History at Harvard University and Dean's Professor of History at the University of Southern California. A former White House Fellow and Humboldt Scholar, she is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the author, most recently, of 1989: The Struggle to Create Post-Cold War Europe , a Financial Times Book of the Year. She lives in Boston and Los Angeles.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* On the evening of November 9, 1989, as millions of television viewers watched, an extraordinary sight unfolded. Apparently believing that free passage was to be allowed, East German border guards, some looking befuddled, stood by passively as a trickle of East Berliners walked unimpeded across the access point to West Berlin. Within hours, crowds, some delirious with joy, gathered on both sides of the Berlin Wall; some even carried hammers, which they used to symbolically chip away at the stone fortification. It seemed the beleaguered government of East Germany had finally acquiesced to the demands of its citizens for the right to travel freely. Actually, no such softening had occurred. The opening of the wall resulted from several confused and contradictory orders from Communist Party officials who still regarded any unauthorized breaches of the borders by East German citizens as a severe crime. Yet, as this inspiring and often thrilling account reveals, the repressive government of East Germany had already been drastically weakened by external events but also by the actions of many courageous citizens prepared to resist the government and its feared security arm, the infamous Stasi. These true heroes, many of them previously anonymous, included youthful idealists, provincial officials, churchmen, and even a few relatively well-placed party officials. Sarotte pays well-deserved tribute to them in her account of the collapse, not merely of the wall but of the whole rotting edifice of the East German state.--Freeman, Jay Copyright 2014 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

The Soviet Union suffered the most significant symbolic defeat in the Cold War with the fall of the Berlin Wall, but Serotte, professor of government and history at Harvard University, thinks that is only half of the story. What emerges from this detailed account is that, contrary to popular belief, neither secret plans by German officials nor behind-the-scenes agreements between U.S. President Reagan and Soviet leader Gorbachev caused the barrier between East and West Berlin to crumble; the political breech occurred via a series of miscues by short-sighted Communist-bloc authorities. With growing mass protests in East Germany, an inept statement delivered at a press conference by a functionary from SED (the country's ruling party) on Nov. 9, 1989, sparked a battle between dissidents and East German security forces that led the Wall to come down much sooner than expected by either side. Serotte carefully etches his narrative of the momentous shattering of the Wall, coloring it with social, political, and personal details, including anecdotes about the death of young Chris Gueffroy, the last East German shot before the barrier came down, and about Harald Jager, the senior officer giving the order to open a key crossing. This gripping, important account of a long-misinterpreted event is one of the most surprising books about the Cold War. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Review

Sarotte's (history, international relations, Univ. of Southern California; 1989: The Struggle To Create Post-Cold War Europe) latest work discusses the fall of the Berlin Wall from a mostly West German perspective, examining the myriad intertwined political and social elements that resulted in the opening of the wall in November 1989. This deeply complex event is widely discussed and analyzed in its own right as one of the factors leading to the fall of the Soviet Union. The author uses primary sources, such as personal memoirs, interviews, and public broadcasts to shine a spotlight on the public and private figures whose actions, inactions, decisions, or errors led to the falling of the wall. She utilizes international reactions, publications, and interviews to highlight or offset her main narrative and in doing so creates a cohesive picture of a tumultuous nation whose oppressed yet hopeful citizenry sought the freedom they had been denied. VERDICT Amply researched and emotive, this work shares the full narrative of events leading to the fall of the Berlin Wall in a way that both academics and lay readers will appreciate. Those already familiar with the subjects and time frames involved will definitely benefit from the author's extensive research and emphasis on personal narratives.-Elizabeth Zeitz, Otterbein Univ. Lib., Westerville, OH (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

List of Maps and Photosp. xi
Abbreviations in the Captions, Maps, and Textp. xiii
Note on Namesp. xv
Introduction: Discovering the Causes of the Collapsep. xvii
Part 1 The Struggle Within The Soviet Bloc And Saxony
Chapter 1 A Brutal Status Quop. 3
Chapter 2 Marginal to Massivep. 21
Chapter 3 The Fight for the Ringp. 49
Part 2 The Competition For Control In East Berlin
Chapter 4 The Revolution Advances, the Regime Plays for Timep. 85
Chapter 5 Failure to Communicate on November 9, 1989p. 105
Part 3 The Contest Of Wills At The Wall
Chapter 6 The Revolution, Televisedp. 127
Chapter 7 Damage Control?p. 155
Epilogue Violence and Victory, Trust and Triumphalismp. 169
Acknowledgementsp. 185
Brief Timeline of Major Events Highlighted in the Textp. 189
Additional Information About, and Abbreviations in, the Notes and Bibliographyp. 191
List of Interviewsp. 195
Notesp. 197
Bibliographyp. 263
Indexp. 273