I am in Berlin to party! Not in night clubs but in the streets… 30 years ago the wall came tumbling down. “This November 9 is a historic day” announced anchorman Hanns Joachim Friedrich. “The GDR has announced that, starting immediately, its borders are open to everyone.” Oddly this was not a well-planned strategy.
1989 was a crazy time behind the iron curtain. Solidarity was causing chaos in Poland. Revolution was starting in Hungary. Gorbechov was experimenting with reform in the USSR. Thousands were protesting in East Germany. In October the long serving and very ill leader Erich Honecker stepped down. He was replaced by Egos Krenz who promised change. The public wasn’t buying it. New head ,same policies. Opposition burgeoned.
The wall had been built in 1961 ostensibly to protect the Eastern Bloc from the fascists elements who were preventing the construction of a socialist state. It was called the anti-fascist protection rampart. Really it was to stop a brain drain. And to stop comparisons between the thriving capitalist western part of the city and the failing communist Soviet controlled part. Berlin, like the rest of Germany had been divided in four after WWII. The USSR, Great Britain, France and the USA were each in control of a quarter. Stalin separated his portion from the rest ideologically, politically and finally physically with the wall.
Things started to spiral almost immediately for Egos Krenz. On Nov 1 he’d reopened the once fluid border with Czechoslovakia. It had been closed to prevent people taking advantage of a loophole in the laws. Once Eastern German citizens were in fellow communist Czechoslovakia they could apply at the West German embassy for asylum. There was a stampede of people leaving while they could. This caused huge headaches for both the Czechs and the Germans. When Krenz threatened to close it again there were massive demonstrations at Alexander Platz on Nov 4. The government published “new” but largely cosmetic changes to travel regulations on Nov 6. People were enraged. The government handed their unofficial spokesman, Gunter Schabowski a note about yet another batch of new regulations. In a land where complete information was rarely shared, he held a press conference on Nov 9 announcing that private travel would finally be allowed. When asked when, he replied “As far as I know , it takes effect immediately.”
Excited local TV stations spread the news. This is not what his bosses had planned. Things were to be introduced gradually. But people took Schabowski at his word and stormed the gates. No one gave orders to fire, baffled border agents stood back and let people pass. They were greeted with flowers and champagne on the other side. The wall was down. Reunification took place less than a year later.
Today Berlin is celebrating with light shows, art installations and a huge open air concert at the Brandenburg Gate.