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The Berlin Wall: Witnessing History

It has been fascinating to listen to some of my fellow journalists describe the emotions of being in Berlin when the Wall came down.  I wasn't there in the first hours.  Instead, I was covering a constitutional conference in Ottawa, but as soon as we realized what was happening overseas, lineup editor Mark Bulgutch and I hopped on a plane and headed for West Germany.  

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It was an amazing sight - one most journalists can only hope to see during their career, a moment when the world is literally changing before your eyes.  But in the first few days, it was a sometimes confusing picture.  On one hand, the Wall was being attacked with vigour, with pick axes, hammers, chisels, and bare hands. On the other, symbols of the old regime still existed.  We had to have our ID checked as we slipped through Checkpoint Charlie, the main doorway from West to East Berlin.

At night, as we broadcast back to Canada, standing with thousands of Berliners cheering and singing behind us (Standing? What a concept!).  I'd look down along the Wall at the dozens of other anchors from around the world, also standing, and reporting the stunning news back to their countries.

While today, it's common, and, of course, accurate, to say that was the moment that symbolically signalled the end of communism in Eastern Europe, at the time, we weren't quite sure. I can remember much of our discussion in those first nights centred almost exclusively on whether it was simply the end of two divided German nations, and whether or not, 44 years after the end of the Second World War, the reunification of East and West Germany was a good thing or not.  

But within weeks the big picture became clear - what was happening in one Eastern European country after another meant the story was much more significant than simply what was happening inside Germany.  From Berlin, Mark and I moved on to Moscow, and while communism still had more time to run in the Soviet Union, it was clear to anyone visiting, the end was near. The world was shifting dramatically.

Visit the CBC News site Berlin Wall: 20 Years After the Fall.