Falling walls

It was 20 years ago this week that the Berlin wall was opened for the first time since its construction began in 1961. Although the signs of a thaw had been in the air for some time, few predicted the speed of the change that would ensue. As members of the scientific community, we can take a moment to reflect on the role our field played in bringing East and West together.

CERN’s collaboration with the East, primarily through links with the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research, JINR, in Dubna, Russia, is well documented. Less well known, however, is the role CERN played in bringing the scientists of East and West Germany together. As the Iron curtain was going up, particle physicists on both sides were already creating the conditions that would allow it to be torn down. Cold war historian Thomas Stange tells the story in his 2002 CERN Courier article.

It was my privilege to be in Berlin on Monday, the anniversary of the wall’s opening, to take part in a conference entitled ‘Falling walls’. I was one of many speakers invited from all walks of life to speculate on the future walls we hope to breach. I spoke of how particle physics has painstakingly built up the substantial edifice of the Standard Model, and how we hope with the LHC to go beyond. But as well as the science, I also told the story of CERN’s role in East-West rapprochement: a timely reminder of the power of science to transcend borders of every kind.

Rolf Heuer