Berlin Wall - East Meets West

Berlin Wall - events moved so fast no one had time to breathe.

November 9-10, 1989 – Bringing Down The Berlin Wall.

Berlin Wall - East Meets West
Berlin Wall – events moved so fast no one had time to breathe.

The fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 and 10 November 1989 was a pivotal event in world history which marked the falling of the Iron Curtain and the start of the fall of communism in Eastern and Central Europe. The fall of the inner German border took place shortly afterwards. An end to the Cold War was declared at the Malta Summit three weeks later and the German reunification took place in October the following year.

On 18 October 1989, longtime Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) leader Erich Honecker stepped down in favor of Krenz. Honecker had been seriously ill, and those looking to replace him were initially willing to wait for a “biological solution”, but by October were convinced that the political and economic situation was too grave.  Honecker approved the choice, naming Krenz in his resignation speech, and the Volkskammer duly elected him. Although Krenz promised reforms in his first public speech, he was considered by the East German public to be following his predecessor’s policies, and public protests demanding his resignation continued. Despite promises of reform, public opposition to the regime continued to grow.

On 1 November, Krenz authorized the reopening of the border with Czechoslovakia, which had been sealed to prevent East Germans from fleeing to West Germany. On 4 November, the Alexanderplatz demonstration took place.

On 6 November, the Interior Ministry published a draft of new travel regulations, which made cosmetic changes to Honecker-era rules, leaving the approval process opaque and maintaining uncertainty regarding access to foreign currency. The draft enraged ordinary citizens, and was denounced as “complete trash” by West Berlin Mayor Walter Momper. Hundreds of refugees crowded onto the steps of the West German embassy in Prague, enraging the Czechoslovaks, who threatened to seal off the East German-Czechoslovak border.

On 7 November, Krenz approved the resignation of Prime Minister Willi Stoph and two-thirds of the Politburo; however Krenz was unanimously re-elected as General Secretary by the Central Committee.

At a Politburo meeting on 7 November it was decided to enact a portion of the draft travel regulations addressing permanent emigration immediately. Initially, the Politburo planned to create a special border crossing near Schirnding specifically for this emigration. Interior Ministry officials and Stasi bureaucrats charged with drafting the new text, however, concluded this was not feasible, and crafted a new text relating to both emigration and temporary travel. It stipulated that East German citizens could apply for permission to travel abroad without having to meet the previous requirements for those trips. To ease the difficulties, the Politburo led by Krenz decided on 9 November to allow refugees to exit directly through crossing points between East Germany and West Germany, including between East and West Berlin. Later the same day, the ministerial administration modified the proposal to include private, round-trip, travel. The new regulations were to take effect the next day.

The announcement of the regulations which brought down the wall took place at an hour-long press conference led by Günter Schabowski, the party leader in East Berlin and the top government spokesman, beginning at 18:00 CET on 9 November and broadcast live on East German television and radio. Schabowski was joined by Minister of Foreign Trade Gerhard Beil and Central Committee members Helga Labs and Manfred Banaschak.

The news began spreading immediately: the West German Deutsche Presse-Agentur issued a bulletin at 19:04 which reported that East German citizens would be able to cross the inner German border “immediately”. Excerpts from Schabowski’s press conference were broadcast on West Germany’s two main news programs that night—at 19:17 on ZDF’s heute, which came on the air as the press conference was ending, and as the lead story at 20:00 on ARD’s Tagesschau. As ARD and ZDF had broadcast to nearly all of East Germany since the late 1950s, were far more widely viewed than the East German channels, and had become accepted by the East German authorities, this is how most of the population heard the news. Later that night, on ARD’s Tagesthemen, anchorman Hanns Joachim Friedrichs proclaimed, “This 9 November is a historic day. The GDR has announced that, starting immediately, its borders are open to everyone. The gates in the Wall stand open wide.”

Here are a few excerpts via the BBC, Radio Berlin International, RTS in Switzerland and Newsweek Magazine.

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