History in Pics

Berlin Wall Comes Down

Fall of the Berlin Wall, November 1989.

The Berlin wall and the guarded border between east and west Germany were first established in the 60s when East Germany’s leaders were worried their population might flee the country and damage their hold on political power (ostensibly they called it the “anti-fascist protective wall”). East Germany’s history was closely tied to USSR and their foreign politics, and relationship with the West strongly depended on what Russian leadership dictated.

In the late 80s, before the opening of the German border, the entire Eastern Bloc was in motion. Gorbachev’s Glasnost and Perestroika politics were essentially the opposite of Brezhnev’s doctrine of suppressing independence movements in the satellite states (such as the Prague Spring in 68). In Spring 89, Poland changed leadership, Hungary was in the process of opening its borders to Austria, Czechoslovakia opened its borders to West Germany: The Iron Curtain fell.

While East Germany was reluctant to change, its citizens were still allowed to travel to the other Soviet states, and many took their chance and fled via Hungary and Czechoslovakia, starting in Summer 89. As opposed to their neighbors, the SED (“Socialist Unity Party of Germany”) was firmly against reform, so citizens took to the streets on September 89. These peaceful Monday Demonstrations, which started in Leipzig and spread to Berlin and most major cities in the GDR and persisted until the fall of East Germany. The demonstrations, impending economic collapse and pressure from Czechoslovakia to do something about the masses of citizens fleeing through their territory, brought the party in disarray and forced them to make concessions. They drew up a plan of slow and gradual structural stage, which would include independent parties and the opening of the borders.

You have to imagine this as an extremely chaotic development; the party changes leadership in October, about half a million people on the streets of Berlin alone, a whole bunch of important people step down, and nobody really knows what’s happening. On November 9. 1989, the party holds a live press conference to announce their plans for gradual change. To the question when exactly these changes will take effect, the spokesperson mistakenly answers “as of right now”. German citizens rush to the wall, demanding their right to cross the border; border personnel hadn’t been informed, but they couldn’t just gun down masses of people. So they opened the border, ignoring all protocol. It would take a bit longer until the Germany was reunited, but the process started overnight because some spokesperson misunderstood the memo he received.

People in the east were looked down upon, their jobs, savings, normal day to day life were gone over night. Imagine, one day you had a job, felt like a part of society (whether you think it was good or bad..) the next day things were very, very different. Jobs became obsolete overnight. The currency has no value. Not an easy transition for the people involved but you do not hear that. They lost every sense of security, however small it was, overnight. They were crying tears of fear.


Shigeki Tanaka

Survivor of the Hiroshima atomic bomb, Shigeki Tanaka won the Boston Marathon in 1951.

Tanaka was 13 and living 20 miles from Hiroshima at the time of the 1945 Hiroshima atomic bombing. He recalled, “We saw a bright light and heard a little noise. But no one thought anything about it at the time. Three days later, we heard the terrible news.”

He laid the groundwork for his career as a marathon runner by running 20 km from Shōbara to a Saijō municipal stadium as a high school student. He was a first-year student at Nihon University at the time of the Boston Marathon.

Tanaka won the marathon racing in tabi-inspired split-toe running shoes made by Onitsuka, which he thought would give him better traction.


Lower Manhattan

First Aerial Photograph of Lower Manhattan, 1906.

Aerial photographs were taken using manned and unmanned hot air balloons and pigeons.


Wilt Chamberlain and Muhammad Ali

Wilt Chamberlain demonstrates his reach to Muhammad Ali, New York, March 10, 1967.

There’s a funny story behind this meeting. At the time of this picture, Wilt sincerely thought he had a chance against Ali in the ring. Wilt asked his people to arrange the fight and so to “hype” it, they arranged this meeting.

Ali heard that while Wilt was confident, he was also a little nervous too. So Ali had arranged for the meeting to be televised with his friend Howard Cosell moderating. Ali insisted on being there first and when Wilt walked out, Ali yelled out very loudly “TIMBER!”. Supposedly Wilt tried to turn around and leave but his handlers coaxed him back out.


Blimp Crash


Blimp crashes due to nuclear test in Nevada, 1957. It was a test blimp. The Navy was considering using blimps to drop nuclear depth charges on enemy submarines. They wanted to know how far away the blimp should be to survive after detonation.

Operation Plumbbob was a series of nuclear tests conducted between May 28 and October 7, 1957, at the Nevada Test Site, following Project 57, and preceding Project 58/58A. It was the biggest, longest, and most controversial test series in the continental United States.

The operation consisted of 29 explosions, of which only two did not produce any nuclear yield. Twenty-one laboratories and government agencies were involved. While most Operation Plumbbob tests contributed to the development of warheads for intercontinental and intermediate range missiles, they also tested air defense and anti-submarine warheads with smaller yields. They included forty-three military effects tests on civil and military structures, radiation and bio-medical studies, and aircraft structural tests. Operation Plumbbob had the tallest tower tests to date in the U.S. nuclear testing program as well as high-altitude balloon tests. One nuclear test involved the largest troop maneuver ever associated with U.S. nuclear testing.

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