The fall of the Berlin wall

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Saturday November 9, 2014 it is 25 years since the Berlin wall fell. The story of that day is a story of confusion and bad communication. It is also an emotional account of people ignoring orders.

Berlin – She stood there for 28 years. Although it seemed like for ever. At least a 138 people died in an attempt to climb the wall and escape to the west. Maria Ulbricht was one of the many who tried to flee the GDR in 1974 in the boot of a car. She didn’t succeed and ended up in the Stasi prison Hohenschönhausen where she, until this day, is still guiding visitors around. A must visit for everyone who likes to hear personal stories about the time of the Berlin wall.

The wall measured 45,1 kilometers and was part of a 167 kilometer long border. Built in 1961 but already in 1945 an attempt was made to separate the eastern zone form the rest by putting down barriers. To travel between the east and the west you needed a permit.

From the day the GDR was founded in 1949, many people tried to escape to the west. In 1961 Walter Ulbricht decided to stop this drain and commissioned the construction of the wall. In a few weeks time a heavily guarded barrier was raised around West-Berlin. Seven transit places wer left. The guards were ordered to shoot at anyone attempting to cross the wall.

Fall of the wall

The Berlin wall fell on November 9, 1989. The story can be read on posters around the Bornholmerstrasse. it is an emotional account and starts like this…

Günter Schabowski, one of the high ranking and spokesman for the SED politburo held a press conference that evening. A unique one because he had not stated conditions to journalists as was custom. An Italian journalist asked him about the new regulations on private travel. Schabowski who had not been updated on the matter, and started off with a complicated answer but ended by saying all of a sudden: “But today, decision has been made as far as I know…

We have decided that every GDR citizen can cross the border.” One of the journalists asked him as of when this nu regulation would be enforced.

Schabowski rummaged through his papers, then looked up and said: “as far as I know… as of now.” It was 18:57 . The confusion was big. How big became clear on the Western German television that brought the news, a few minutes later as one the last items. However at 20.00 it was clear what the consequences were:  “GDR opens the border!” one of the Tagesschau newsreaders told the Germans

Bornholmerstrasse

A tv-anchorman stood at that moment in front of a  hermetically closed wall and said kind of aghast: “so if I understand well, the Wall will be opened tonight…”  The East-Germans went the Wall to see if they indeed could cross over toWest-Berlin. The guards, who had not been given orders at loss like everybody else. Nobody knew what to do.

Like many of his colleagues the commander at the Bornholmer Straße crossing had large groups of people standing in front of the gates. At 23:52 he made a decision: “Screw them, he said about his superiors. I am going to open the border. The GDR citizens are free.”Soon after he telephoned a colleague who then also opened a border. soon others followed.  Confused the Ossi’s walked to other site where they were met with applause, flowers and champagne by the Wessi’s.

Reunification

The fall of the wall was celebrated at Christmas 1989 with a concert led by Leonard Bernstein. A year later the reunification was a fact. In 1991 all the remains of the wall were demolished, the fragments sold as souvenirs.  Today there is still the “Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer” and the “East Side Gallery” to remind us.

Text: Anneke de Bundel – Beeld: Nicole Franken

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