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25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall – Berlin Entrepreneurs Write History

The euphoria that surrounded the fall of the Berlin Wall led to many well-known political and social changes: however, it also opened up a wealth of new business perspectives. From October 16 to November 9, 2014, we invite you to follow our countdown to the 25th anniversary of fall of the Berlin Wall by reading 25 real-life stories told by Berlin companies that witnessed the fall first-hand. Our editors chose the 25 most exciting and inspiring stories out of a group of over 180 submissions: these 25 stories will be unveiled one-by-one over the course of 25 days

  • Although it might seem odd that a film professional from West Germany would end up taking over responsibility for promoting the legacy of DEFA, the official state-run film company in the East German era, this twist in the history of the German film business is entirely in keeping with many of the unexpected changes that came to pass as a result of the fall of the Wall. In other words, it's not entirely surprising that Gerhard Sieber, a Munich native who had previously worked for Bavaria Film, is now in charge of managing the film and television heritage of the GDR as managing partner of the ICESTORM Group. more
  • Joab Nist was born in Munich in 1983 and found his first apartment in Berlin by hanging up a note on Helmholtzplatz in Prenzlauer Berg in 2004. Since then, the blogger, author and filmmaker has remained faithful to Berlin and the city's unique form of public communication he calls "Zettelwirtschaft." While exploring Berlin for the first time, Nist had photographed many of the notes, notices, searches and requests posted by people in the public sphere throughout the city. more
  • Just like millions of others, Catherine von Fürstenberg-Dussmann, Board Chairman of the Dussmann Group Foundation, experienced the fall of the Berlin Wall as a media event on TV, in her case from her home in Bavaria. And yet, for her, there was something very unique about the TV coverage: indeed, every once in a while, she would catch a glimpse of her husband, Peter Dussmann, founder of the Dussmann Group, among the experts participating in the television commentary. more
  • For the artist and gallery owner Klio Karadim, the distance between Sofia and Berlin is not just an expanse of over 1,600 kilometers: for her, it also symbolizes an epochal watershed. In November 1989, Karadim was 19 years old and following the images on TV of the opening of the Berlin Wall from her hometown in Bulgaria. She was delighted for the people in her "brother nation" in the GDR; she was also slightly envious of their new-found freedom. more
  • Oliver Schulz is the king of a summer paradise in northeastern Berlin known as the Strandbad Weißensee. He has been the leaseholder and operator of the bathing complex since 2003. For Schulz, taking over the site marked the closing of a circle: he was born in Weißensee, learned to swim in the lake there and today gazes out as manager over its glittering surface in summer. It all started in the hot summer of 2003, when Schulz went on a walk around the lake and wondered why the Berliner Bäderbetriebe had closed the Weißensee summer bathing site. more
  • Sara Nachama first came to West Berlin in 1978 and worked as a freelance film editor for the radio and TV broadcasters known as SFB and ZDF. The daughter of a diplomat, Nachama had grown up in Israel and lived in many other far eastern countries before taking a degree in history at Hebrew University Jerusalem. In Berlin, she worked and cared for her own family and two sons. She was also involved in Berlin's Jewish community and worked as a volunteer for the Jüdische Kulturtage (Jewish Cultural Days). more
  • "A factory has to run smoothly, the assembly line cannot stand still, parts don't care what the political situation is outside," notes Frank Ziegler, Master Assembler at the BMW Factory in Berlin-Spandau, when asked about his first morning shift after the fall of the Berlin Wall. In the course of that day, the spectacular events of the night before were still the main theme in the montage hall. On the night of November 9, 1989, Ziegler himself had driven to the border crossing in Rudow and seen how the first East Berliners crossed the border. more
  • Dissidence in a time capsule – that's one way to describe the focus of Gunar Barthel's work. His gallery, BARTHEL+TETZNER, which he operates together with Tobias Tetzner in the Berlin district of Charlottenburg, specializes in non-conformist art from the GDR. In Barthel's biography, East and West stand in an exciting relationship to one another: as an independent gallery operator in the city of Karl-Marx-Stadt (today's Chemnitz), he was expatriated from the GDR on October 3, 1987. more
  • For Stefanie Grau, the end of the GDR – both as a political system and as the land of her childhood – first revealed itself in the form of the unknown yet colorful world of consumer goods at the department store as well as in new curricula at school. When the Wall came down, Grau was eleven years old and living in the town of Neubrandenburg in East Germany. Twenty-two years later, she went into business for herself as a stage and furniture designer. more
  • Jörg Simon has been Board Chairman of Berliner Wasserbetriebe – the capital’s drinking water supplier and wastewater disposal company – since 1999. In other words, he heads up a venerable and longstanding company with an over 150-year history that is inextricably tied to Berlin's fate as a divided and then reunited city. Starting in July 1950, the drinking water pipelines in each half of the city were separated, with East and West Berlin each building their own companies to control supply. more
  • Annette Kusche grew up in West Germany and never thought she would witness a peaceful revolution in the GDR and a united Germany in her lifetime: "I thought I belonged to a generation that wouldn't experience any major political events." When the Wall came down in Berlin, she was in Frankfurt am Main working for the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels (German Publishers and Booksellers Association). That night, she knew everything was about to change in a fundamental way. more
  • Even though he grew up with Tetris, Summer Games and the Apple II in his home state of North Rhine Westphalia, it still didn't take long for Jens Begemann to get bored: at the age of ten, he programmed his first computer game. Two years later, as he sat with his father watching the spectacular images of the fall of the Berlin Wall on TV, his father said to him "You're going to tell your grandchildren about this someday." more
  • Raul Krauthausen was born in 1980. For him, the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 is a far-away childhood memory of images on a black-and-white TV. The momentum of that historic event, however, is still very present and continues to drive his work to this day: "In 1989, the Wall came down and a border opened up, but we shouldn't forget that there are still many walls in our minds with regard to people living with disabilities." more
  • Georg Strecker learned about the fall of the Berlin Wall while on a Peter Kraus tour in the Swabian Alps. At the time, he felt very far away from the world history happening on the other side of the country. And yet, since 1998, this native Bad Homburger and managing director of the Wintergarten Varieté has found himself at the center of all the turbulent events in Berlin. "The fall of the Berlin Wall prompted the (re-)birth of the Wintergarten. In 1992, it was revamped and reopened with much aplomb and many world-famous stars on the contemporary art scene." more
  • For Dirk Zingler, president of the soccer club known as 1. FC Union Berlin, the fall of the Wall brought a formerly divided family back together, but it also led to the shattering of a unique form of soccer friendship and solidarity. Zingler grew up in East Berlin, while a part of his family lived in West Berlin. After the fall of the Wall, he was able to visit his mother's brother on Ackerstraße in the western Berlin district of Wedding for the very first time. more
  • Bike messenger turned company founder: that's the essential story of how Wolfgang M. Sacher literally got the wheels of his entrepreneurial career rolling back in West Berlin in the 1980s. Together with his roommate, who was also studying Business and Social Communication at Berlin's University of the Arts (UdK), Sacher came up with an idea on how to optimize services: they hired three bike messengers and founded their own express delivery service. more
  • Born in East Berlin the same year the Wall was built, Heiko Weidlich's life initially appeared to be pre-programmed: that is, until one day after his 28th birthday when the Berlin Wall came down. World history couldn't have thrown him a bigger birthday party. Weidlich had just completed his studies in Information Technology and was working at East Berlin's Institute for Post and Telecommunications, which would soon be dissolved. For Weidlich, the fall of the Wall and Germany's subsequent reunification came at just the right time in his life. more
  • Peter Strunk knows everything there is to know about the Adlershof Science and Technology Park located in southeastern Berlin. He holds a doctorate in history and has been responsible for public relations at WISTA-MANAGEMENT GmbH – the operating society behind the high-tech complex – since 1999. Science and research have a long tradition in Adlershof. After the Wall went up, the site became home to a scientific research center belonging to the East German Akademie der Wissenschaften (Academy of Sciences) as well as to the GDR's Deutsche Fernsehfunk (German Radio and Television). more
  • Multilingualism has been a part of Brigitta Gabrin's life from the very beginning. The daughter of Hungarian-German parents, she grew up with three languages in Rumania, and today she operates a radio station in Berlin geared towards the 180 nationalities living in the capital region: "I can't imagine a life without multicultural and multilingual radio in Berlin." Gabrin is the managing director and editor-in-chief of the co-op radio station known as multicult.fm. more
  • Dimitri Hegemann came to West Berlin in 1978, attracted by the walled-in city that was at once a subcultural microcosm and a melting pot of alternative lifestyles. He quickly became active in the music scene and organized a series of "Berlin-Atonal" music festivals throughout the1980s. For Hegemann, November 9, 1989 was a night at the club like any other: that is until he noticed people walking by on Köpenicker Straße wearing stonewashed jeans and a man from East Berlin asked him for directions. more
  • Tobias Weber experienced the fall of the Wall in a rather cinematic setting: he had grown up in the area known as Wannsee in West Berlin, right near the Glienicke Bridge – for many years a vivid symbol of the division of Germany and the site of the last exchange of secret agents between East and West in 1986. In 1989, he was a witness to the spectacle of thousands of East Germans flocking across the once foreboding bridge to the West, where they danced on the roofs of cars. more
  • Florida is a place for which many people feel a tremendous sense of longing, not least a certain Berlin ice cream parlor owner: "I wanted to make a big ice cream parlor out of a small one, and Florida was the key ingredient in that plan," remembers Olaf Höhn, Managing Director and Owner of Florida-Eis. In the 1980s in Spandau (West Berlin), Höhn, who had studied to be a mechanical engineer, operated an ice cream café that was committed to manufacturing its own ice cream. At that time, however, nobody could have foreseen that Florida-Eis would one day turn into a cult brand. more
  • The upbeat mood of optimism in the air at the huge demonstration held on East Germany's Alexanderplatz on November 4, 1989 – where prominent GDR artists such as Christa Wolf, Heiner Müller and Stefan Heym were among the speakers – is still on the mind of Jens Hilpert. That day, he knew for certain that the demonstration was a clear sign of people's desire for change – a feeling that had already been expressed in the so-called "Monday Demonstrations" that had taken place that year throughout East Germany. more
  • Petra Hoyer was able to prevail in the sometimes harsh and male-dominated world of building and construction materials. Her company is the largest of its kind run by a woman in eastern Germany. The origins of HObA-Baustoffhandel can be found at the S-Bahn train tracks along Greifswalder Straße in Berlin. That's where Hoyer – at the time a single mom in her mid-20s – founded her own building materials company in 1990. "After the fall of the Wall, everything was turned on its head and the challenge was to rearrange everything anew. I had to decide very quickly whether I should take a secure job at a bank or go into business for myself." more
  • The word that actress Gabriele Streichhahn most associates with the fall of the Berlin Wall is "Wahnsinn" ("madness"). On the evening of November 9, 1989, she was on stage at East Berlin's Palast der Republik performing in a comedy called "Der nackte Wahnsinn" ("Naked Madness"). During the intermission, the ensemble's makeup artist told Streichhahn and her fellow performers that the Wall had fallen: after finishing the show, Streichhahn rushed out of the Palast (which has since been torn down) and made her way to the Brandenburg Gate, where she joined the crowds dancing with joy. more
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