Confusion: East German border guards are standing in front of the Brandenburg Gate when the wall begins to be broken

On August 13, 1961, the government of East Germany ordered the border with West Berlin to be sealed. The reason? Too many of his citizens left for more prosperous West Germany.


On a day the previous week, nearly 2,000 had left the German Democratic Republic (GDR) for good.

Berliners on both sides cried while 7,000 soldiers erected barricades and barbed wire, blocked nearly 200 roads, and closed doors and windows in apartment buildings on the border. The 96-mile wall that followed became the most powerful symbol of the Cold War.

But in 1989 East Germany was on the verge of bankruptcy, its productivity 40 percent lower than in West Germany. And, like glasnost – the policy of openness of Russian president Mikhail Gorbachev – the East-German Politburo, the executive body of its Communist Party, got more pressure to reform.

When Gorbachev visited the GDR in October 1989, protesters shouted in the street: "Gorby, help us! Gorby, help us! "

Confusion: East German border guards are standing in front of the Brandenburg Gate when the wall begins to be broken

Confusion: East German border guards are standing in front of the Brandenburg Gate when the wall begins to be broken


November 9, 1989


Day 10,316 of the Berlin Wall. This is the fourth version of the structure that divides the city; it currently consists of concrete sections that were originally designed for storing liquid manure on East German farms.

Since 1961, more than 5,000 people have successfully escaped from the GDR – half of East German border guards. But 138 people died in an attempt to flee to freedom.

The west side of The Wall is covered with graffiti and one of the most prominent slogans is "Die Mauer Muss Weg" – "The Wall Must Go."

7 a.m.

It is a mild fall in autumn in Berlin and the smell of sulfur from the crumbling East German factories is in the air. Under the feet of the GDR guards who make their regular morning patrols are the remains of more than 40 escape tunnels.

East German border guards watch as the wall is broken. It is estimated that, within three days of breaking the wall, three million East Germans visited West Berlin

East German border guards watch as the wall is broken. It is estimated that, within three days of breaking the wall, three million East Germans visited West Berlin

East German border guards watch as the wall is broken. It is estimated that three million East Germans visited West Berlin within three days of breaking the wall

Some were made by West Germans trying to save friends and relatives, but most started in the East, dug by people of all ages.

In May 1962, for 16 days, a group of 12 people, mainly East German pensioners, sought their way to freedom. Their tunnel was 104 feet long and almost 6 feet high. When asked why it was such a long time, one of the escaped people said: & # 39; We wanted to walk with our women to freedom, comfortably and without being bent. & # 39;

8 o'clock in the morning


For Germans, morning-to-work traffic starts on both sides of the wall. West Berlin has smart shops and well-lit streets, while East Berlin's commuters pass bomb sites and buildings are still littered with World War II bullet holes.

10:00 a.m.

Since the border with Czechoslovakia was opened on November 1, East Germany has been praying people through that route to reach West Germany.

In East Berlin, hospitals are short of doctors and some schools are closed because so many teachers have left their jobs.

This morning, the GDR newspaper Neues Deutschland begs its readers: "We beg you, stay in our home country, stay with us."


In the Ministry of the Interior building, close to the most famous of the seven border crossings, Checkpoint Charlie, four officials meet to prepare new travel rules on behalf of the East German Politburo to tackle the exodus via Czechoslovakia.

4:00 AM

At the East German Communist Party headquarters, the leaders agree with the new regulations; trips are allowed to West Germany, but only after an application has been submitted. Visas with a passport are granted for visits of a maximum of 30 days.

The government knows that only a small part of the population has a passport and that a new one needs a processing time of at least a month. They expect orderly rows & # 39; to start in the morning at passport offices. The wall remains closed.



East German leader Egon Krenz hands over the new travel policy document to Gunter Schabowski, the government's spokesperson. He will inform the public about the new rules during a live press conference tonight.

Krenz is convinced that the new system will prevent mass exodus and guarantee some state control.

"Here, my friend, this is something that will do us good," says Krenz.

6 AM

The large room in the international press center of East Berlin is full of media from all over the world. Schabowski welcomes everyone, but he is tired and distracted.

He was not present with the Communist Party leaders this afternoon and did not read the entire document – he just reads it in the car on his way here.

Schabowski is not aware of the vital waiting time while applications are being processed.

He has an arrogant attitude to his daily press conferences and believes that the only qualities you need are & # 39; are able to speak German and read a text without errors & # 39 ;. The press conference starts with boring news about the latest ministerial appointments and administrative reforms.

Government spokesman, Gunter Schabowski, on November 9, 1989 in the international press center of East Berlin

Government spokesman, Gunter Schabowski, on November 9, 1989 in the international press center of East Berlin

Government spokesman, Gunter Schabowski, on November 9, 1989 in the international press center of East Berlin


6:30 am

At Checkpoint Charlie, East German guards use binoculars to look at an attractive waitress serving coffee and beer at Cafe Adler on the other side of the border. It is part of their daily routine.

Astrid Benner, 29, knows she's being watched, but doesn't mind – she even feels sorry for them. & # 39; There it was so sad, & # 39; she said, looking back many years later.


Schabowski is finally turning to the new travel policy. Sweating under the television lights, he describes it as well as he can.


"We decided today, eh, to implement a regulation that allows every citizen of the GDR to leave the GDR through one of the border crossings."

Journalists ask questions as to whether that means going without a passport and – crucially – when it comes into effect. Schabowski scratches his head and shuffles through his papers. "That, as far as I know, takes effect immediately."

A German newspaper reporter asks: & # 39; Does that also apply to West Berlin? & # 39;

Schabowski shrugs and reads from the document: & # 39; Permanent exit can take place via all border crossings from the GDR to the FRG and West Berlin. & # 39;

The Berlin Wall was opened by accident – earlier than the Politburo intended.


"It was a simple bite," a party official said later.


At the end of the press conference, at the largest of the border crossings, the responsible officer, Lieutenant Colonel Harald Jager, calls to the television: "Bull ****!" Furious at Schabowski's false statements.

Jager is part of the Ministry of State Security, the Stasi, and he calls his boss, Colonel Rudi Ziegenhorn, at the operational headquarters to find out what is going on.

Thousands of people from the east and west of Berlin celebrate the opening of the Berlin Wall in November 11, 1989

Thousands of people from the east and west of Berlin celebrate the opening of the Berlin Wall in November 11, 1989

Thousands of people from the east and west of Berlin celebrate the opening of the Berlin Wall in November 11, 1989

Ziegenhorn tells him that nothing has changed. But Jager, who started working as a border police officer at the age of 18 and had helped build The Wall, is convinced that something important is about to happen.


The head of the Associated Press news agency is: & # 39; The GDR is opening its borders. & # 39;


With a remarkable speed, 80 East Berliners arrive at the checkpoints in Invalidenstrasse, Heinrich-Heine-Strasse and Bornholmer Strasse and ask the guards for permission to cross the border.

They are told that they need a passport and a visa and that they will come back tomorrow.

In Checkpoint Charlie's Cafe Adler, waitress Astrid hears the news on the radio and calls the cafe owner, Albrecht Rau. "You have to come here because I am all alone and thousands of people can come at any time! This is the first place they will reach! "

In East Berlin, a democracy campaign called Aram Radomski walks into a bar where he knows his friends will be.

He has just watched the press conference on television and wants to test what Schabowski & # 39; s sentence & # 39; immediately & # 39; means.

He encourages them to go immediately to the nearest border crossing. Only his co-campaigner Siggi Schefke agrees to come.

Radomski shouts as they leave: & # 39; If we are not back in two hours, we will be in the West! & # 39;


At Checkpoint Charlie, café Adler owner Albrecht carries a tray of coffee, sparkling wine and glasses to the East German guards. Astrid and some of his customers came with him to offer support.

As they cross the painted white line between East and West, two GDR guards come out of their huts. Astrid offers them champagne, but they say she has to go back.

She says, "But we have to celebrate this exciting day, don't you want to celebrate with us?"

They answer: "No, no, we don't want that, please go back."

Albrecht and Astrid retreat across the line and share a drink with the West Berliners who have looked at their bold gesture.

8 a.m.

West German television station ARD announces that & # 39; this is a historic day & # 39 ;. The newsreader Hanns Joachim Friedrichs jumps with the gun and says: "The GDR opens its borders. The gates in the Berlin Wall are open. & # 39;

8:15 am

At the Bornholmer Strasse junction the number of people is now in the hundreds and things are strained.

Lieutenant Colonel Jager is concerned that his men are shooting into the crowd or that the crowd is trying to grab their weapons.

He has no idea what happens at the other border crossings, because only the Stasi head office can communicate with all seven checkpoints.

8:47 am

The East German Government Politburo meeting that started this afternoon finally ends. They have no idea what happened at the Schabowski press conference or what is happening at the border.

9 o'clock in the evening

Democracy campaigners Radomski and Schefke are on Bornholmer Strasse and demand loudly, along with dozens of others, to be allowed to pass. They have Western money with them in case they are successful.

In the nearby barracks, Lieutenant Colonel Jager calls to Stasi's headquarters and asks again what to do. They tell him to pull the most aggressive members out of the crowd and let them go to the West, and this is called "steam drainage."

Jager is skeptical, but agrees to implement the plan. Radomski and Schefke are among those who have been plucked from the crowd and stamped their papers. The stamp is deliberately placed over their photo ID – making their citizenship invalid. This is also part of the "let-off steam solution" – a trick to keep troublemakers out.

While Radomski and Schefke go to the West, they do not realize that they are no longer East German citizens.


Now in West Berlin a bewildered Radomski and Schefke are jumping in a taxi. The driver can see from his old-fashioned clothing that he is from the east and tries to kick them out because their currencies are worthless. They hastily produce their western tones.

Radomski and Schefke ask to be taken to the home of a friend of Schefke & # 39; s, whom he met in Hungary. They pay the driver and tell him: "Go back to that bridge, you make a lot of money tonight!"

9:30 am

The telephone rings constantly in the American cabin at Checkpoint Charlie. It's in the phone book and radio and television stations around the world want to know what's going on.

The most popular request to the guards is: "Tell us what you can see from the window."

The Americans can see about 1,000 people on their side of the border and about 100 on the other side. The DDR guards push them away from the white line.

10:00 a.m.

West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl has just finished a state dinner on the first day of a six-day visit to Poland.

Rumors of the chaos in Berlin have reached him and he calls his media adviser Eduard Ackermann in Bonn, who says excitedly: "Mr Chancellor, as we speak, The wall is falling!"

"Are you sure?" Kohl says and jokingly asks Ackermann if he has been drinking.

The "steam drain" is completely wrong; it is only encouraging people to call more aggressively to let through.

An East German couple who only wanted a quick look at West Berlin has returned to return to their children who sleep quickly at home. But their ID & # 39; s are stamped on their photo and the border guards refuse to pass them.

Unable to appease the distraught parents, the guards summon Lieutenant Colonel Jager, who tells the couple that he will make an exception in their case, and let them through.

Jager is becoming increasingly disillusioned with what he is being asked to do.


Stasi official Erich Mielke calls GDR leader Krenz to inform him about the chaos of The Wall.

Krenz faces a choice: close the border by bringing in tanks or opening the checkpoints to let things go their way. He decides not to do anything.

Since 7 November, the Stasi has been burning sensitive documents, especially documents that identify their large network of informers among the East German population.

In Warsaw, Chancellor Kohl toasts the news from home with the only available wine, a gift from the Poles for a bottle of Crimean sparkling wine, the Soviet equivalent of champagne.


The state-run East German television news appeals to those citizens who want to travel to the first passport and registration office and submit an official application.

"Travel must be requested!" Says the presenter.

But most viewers are tuned to West German television to find out what is going on. Dozens of dirty and unreliable cars from Trabant and Wartburg have been left in the streets around the border with running engines.

11:00 AM

The East German army is very alert. Meanwhile, at Checkpoint Charlie, the bustle on the west side has become so great that every move is impossible, but the US border regiments decide not to evacuate the area.

As an officer says: "We just have to let this happen. This is a moment for the German people. & # 39;

half past eleven

The part of the wall at the Brandenburg Gate has a wide, flat top instead of barbed wire, so that East Germans can clamber on top of it, their risky exploits illuminated by television camera's lights.

Dozens of people dance and sing, welcomed by others wearing pajamas and dressing gowns.

Lieutenant Colonel Jager has seen enough at the border crossing on Bornholmer Strasse.

Thousands of his fellow citizens sing: "Open the gate! Open the gate! "Someone is pushing one of his customs officers who immediately pushes them back.

Although people scream: & # 39; No violence! No violence! "Hunter is becoming increasingly concerned that his men are being attacked, so he calls his commander, Colonel Ziegenhorn, and tells him bluntly," I'm going to end all controls and release the people. "

Ziegenhorn protests, but Jager hangs up and orders the gate to be opened.

As two of his men begin to push the barrier, the crowd rushes forward and does the work for them. Some walk, but many run to the West where they are met by outstretched arms by West Berliners.


East German leader Krenz is on the phone with the official government spokesman, Schabowski, whose press conference was the cause of the evening's historical events. Krenz reassures him: "Those who leave today will come back."

On Bornholmer Strasse, Lieutenant Colonel Jager is almost in tears as he watches the crowd flow past him west. One of his guards, Helmut Stoss, thinks, "Why have I been standing here for the past 20 years?"


At Checkpoint Charlie, people on both sides of the barrier call to each other.

In the east they shout: "Let's go! Let's go! & # 39; And in the West they answer: & # 39; Come! Come! Come! & # 39;

In Cafe Adler, waitress Astrid hears the screams and sees the impotent DDR guards looking at the crowd with their binoculars.

"They didn't know what to do, but just kept doing it," she says.

Gunter Moll, the DDR-side officer, walks to the pedestrian gate and says businesslike: & # 39; Open it. & # 39;

November 10, 1989


Lieutenant Colonel Jager calls his wife and tells her that he will not be home until tomorrow morning because he has opened the checkpoint. "You're kidding!" She laughs.


In Cafe Adler a man bursts into screams: "I'm the first! I'm the first! "All customers are bursting with applause. He asks Astrid if she will mark his hand with the ink stamp that all cafes put on their bills once they are paid; he needs proof that he has actually been to the West.

After drinking a beer, the man proudly leaves with a stamp on the back of his hand that says: "Cafe Adler Friedrichstrasse 206 1000 Berlin 61 Tel: 030/2518965".


At the Brandenburg Gate, East German guards run a fire hose on the people on top of the wall.

The snake is not very powerful because it is full of holes, but most soaked revelers are forced down. A young man with an umbrella remains challenging.

At the Sonnenallee checkpoint, the guards call the Stasi headquarters to say that they & # 39; open everything & # 39 ;.

All border crossings are now open.

1 AM

The American guards at Checkpoint Charlie watch the East Berliners approach the white line, pause and take a deep breath as they cross.

One of the many thousands of East Germans who have crossed the border is a 35-year-old woman named Angela Merkel.

She was on her way home from the Central Institute of Physical Chemistry when she heard the news. Merkel goes to a telephone booth to call her family to tell them she's in West Berlin.

Angela Merkel will become Chancellor of a united Germany in 16 years.

2:00 AM

Café Adler is closed because it runs out of beer and champagne. Sightseers come from Denmark and Austria to participate in this historic moment. The streets are full of people playing music from radios and tape machines, blowing Alpine horns and sharing coffee bottles.

One of the most popular songs being played is Looking For Freedom by American actor David Hasselhoff, who was number one in West Germany for eight weeks earlier that year.

Next month, on New Year's Eve, Hasselhoff will sing the song suspended from a crane high above the Brandenburg Gate while being cheered on by a huge crowd.

3:20 AM

East Berliners walk through one of West Berlin's main shopping streets, Kurfurstendamm, in a trance, amazed by the exhibited goods.

The people from the GDR are easy to recognize in their normal shoes and old-fashioned coats and hats.

Meanwhile, the Stasi has had enough of the people around the Brandenburg Gate and is calling in army reserves to help them clean up.

5 AM

In Potsdamer Platz, Berliners hear the sound of electric drills and sledge hammers on the west side of the wall. Soon holes appear in the concrete.

Hundreds of Berliners from both the east and west arrive with hammers and chisels to get their own souvenir from the Cold War and earn the nickname "wallpeckers".

The watchtowers on the wall are now empty.

10:00 a.m.

In London, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is holding an improvised press conference outside of Downing Street.

A television reporter asks for her reaction to the events in Berlin. She replies: "I think it's a great day for freedom.

& # 39; I watched the scenes on television last night and again because I thought you should not only hear about them, but also see them because you see the joy on people's faces and you see what freedom means to them; it makes you realize that you cannot suppress or suppress people's desire for freedom and I hope that they will be a prelude to the coming Berlin wall. & # 39;

Mrs. Thatcher was horrified privately by scenes in the West German parliament the previous evening, when politicians were all singing Deutschland Uber Everything when they heard the news from Berlin.

New graffiti has already appeared on the wall. "Die Mauer Muss Weg" – "The Wall Must Go" has been replaced by "Die Mauer Ist Weg" – "The Wall Is Gone".

In East Berlin, the Stasi is preparing a report with complaints from its border guards. A guard simply said, "I don't understand the world anymore."


It is estimated that three million East Germans visited West Berlin within three days of breaking the wall.

Change came quickly. In July 1990 East Germans started using the German mark as their currency and on 3 October of that year the country was reunited.

Some parts of The Wall were sold as contemporary art at an auction and hundreds of tons were used as rubble in road construction.

Within two years there were only a few small parts left that were preserved as monuments.

  • Jonathan Mayo is author of Hitler & # 39; s Last Day: Minute By Minute, Short Books, £ 8.99.

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