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The Berlin Wall: what really made it fall

Extraordinary civil courage by the people of Leipzig on Oct. 9 first dissolved a crucial mental wall.

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Contrary to popular lore, the Berlin Wall did not fall on Nov. 9, 1989. Nor did it fall in Berlin.

It fell on Oct. 9, 120 miles away, in the city of Leipzig.

First, civil courage – a rare quality in German history – had to dissolve the four-decade-old mental wall of East German fear. Only then could the cement wall collapse in Berlin.

Here's how it happened:

When Valentine Kosch set out to join the Monday peace march in Leipzig on Oct. 9, she expected to be shot by the massed East German security forces. She explained to her two young daughters that she was going to take a walk with friends so that teachers would be nicer to their pupils – an accurate enough description in her case. And she told her husband that if she did not return by 10 p.m., he should take their girls, move to Dresden, and start a new life there, where the two sisters would not be branded as children of an enemy of the state.

Like most East Germans in the decades after Soviet tanks suppressed the East Berlin workers' uprising in 1953, Mrs. Kosch was apolitical. Rather than fighting the constraints of the Communist system, she adapted to them, the better to shape her private sphere with a minimum of outside interference.

However, a few years earlier she had spontaneously introduced Montessori methods in the class she taught in the city school system. For this breach of the rules she had been demoted, in effect, to a classroom for special-needs children. She felt stifled by the rigidity of the educational bureaucracy. She was fed up.

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