The Berlin Wall separated East and West Berlin, ensuring that capitalist and democratic West Berlin remained surrounded on all sides by the communist German Democratic Republic, where a permanent state of martial law kept millions prisoner for decades. West Germany was forced to move its seat of government to Bonn, to protect against a potential hostile siege from the East German regime, strongly backed by the Soviet Union. But on 9 November 1989, a spreading movement of ground-up resistance and reform climaxed in what seemed like the sudden unraveling of an empire that covered half the continent.
The people of Berlin, on both sides of the wall, converged on the wall along the barrier between East and West Berlin —the wall had come to surround all of West Berlin— and began tearing the wall apart piece by piece. Emotional scenes of families reunited after decades of forced separation quickly spread around the world, and the bloodless revolution against totalitarian communism spread across Europe. Many who had lived in East Berlin, including foreigners who had the privilege of being able to pass through the wall to West Berlin, would later learn how closely and persistently their actions had been monitored by the Stasi, the GDR’s secret police and security forces.