Aminet 44 (2001)(GTI - Schatztruhe)[!][Aug 2001].iso
A Personal Account of The Fall of the Berlin Wall
The 11th and 12th of November, 1989
On Thursday, the 9th of November, 1989, and Friday the 10th, the TV
and radio in Denmark was filled with news about the events in Berlin.
The Wall was about to fall. On Saturday morning, the 11th of
November, I heard on the radio that East Germany was collapsing. At
the spur of the moment, I suggested to Karen, my Danish wife, and two
Danish friends, Rolf Reitan and Nana Kleist, that we should go to
Berlin. We talked about what one should take to a revolution: it
was a very cold, dry November day. We settled on a dozen boiled
eggs, a thermos pot of coffee, extra warm clothes, sleeping bags, and
a battery- powered radio. The four of us packed into my 25 year old
Volkswagen bug and we drove off.
It's normally an eight hour drive from Aarhus, Denmark, to Berlin.
We took the Autobahn down to Hamburg and then across one of the
transit routes to Berlin. Berlin is in the centre of East Germany.
There are only three highways which allow access from West Germany.
At the border city of Braunschweig (Brunswick), on the German side,
we began to see the first Trabants. These are small East German
cars. They don't just look like toy cars, they look like Donald
Duck's car. It was designed by a famous East German industrial
designer during the 50s and it never changed. It's the only car in
the world with tail fins. It has cheap, thin metal that rusts
easily. The two- stroke engine buzzes like a lawn mower and pumps
out clouds of smoke. God help you if you're standing near one.
Trabants, which Germans call Trabis, have a top speed of about 50
miles an hour.
After a pizza in Braunschweig, we drove towards the German/German
border. It was about 11 p.m. at night now. The traffic began to
slow down. Soon there was very heavy traffic. In the distance there
was a tremendous cloud of light. No one knew what was going on. On
the radio, reports followed one another, contradicting each other.
Soon, we began to pass cars that were parked along both sides of the
Autobahn. People were walking along, all heading towards the border.
We finally reached the border just after midnight. The East German
border was always a serious place. Armed guards kept you in your
car, watching for attempts at escapes. Tonight was a different
country. Over 20,000 East and West Germans were gathered there in a
huge party: as each Trabi came through, people cheered and clapped.
East Germans drove through the applause, grinning, dazed, as
thousands of flashbulbs went off. The traffic jam was spectacular.
The cloud of light turned out to be the headlights of tens of
thousands of cars in a huge cloud of Trabi exhaust fumes. We got out
of the car and began walking. Between lanes of cars, streams of
people were walking, talking together. Under one light, a group of
musicians were playing violins and accordions and men and women were
dancing in circles. Despite the brilliantly cold night, car windows
were open and everyone talked to each other.
We met people from Belgium, France, Sweden, Spain, England: they had
all left their homes and come to see the wall be torn down. Germans
were drunk with joy. Everyone spoke in all sorts of languages and
half languages. French spoke German and Spaniards spoke French and
everyone spoke a bit of German. We walked for a while with a French
family from Belgium: the mother had packed her two young daughters
into the car and came to see the German revolution.
Along with everyone else headed towards Berlin were thousands of East
Germans; they had been in West Europe for a blitz tour with the kids
and grandmother in the back, to look around and drive back again.
Without passports, they had simply driven through the borders.
Amused West European border guards let them pass. They smiled and
waved to everyone.
At the checkpoint, which is a 25 lane place, people milled around.
It was nearly 3 a.m. by now. It had taken us three hours to go
through the traffic jam of cheering and applause. West Germans are
environmentally conscious and if they're stuck in traffic, they turn
off the engine and push their cars. East Germans, on the other hand,
sat in their Trabis, putting out clouds of exhaust. Everyone had
their radios on and everywhere was music. People had climbed up into
trees, signs, buildings, everything, to wave and shout. Television
teams stood around filming everything. People set up folding tables
and were handing out cups of coffee. A Polish engineer and his wife
had run out of gas; someone gave us some rope, so we tied the rope to
his car and pulled them along.
We walked through the border. On both sides the guard towers were
empty and the barbed wire was shoved aside in great piles. Large
signs told us that we needed sets of car documents. The East German
guard asked if we had documents. I handed him my Danish cat's
vaccination documents, in Danish. He waved us through.
We were finally inside East Germany on the transit highway to Berlin.
We could see headlights stretching into the distance, a river of
light winding through hills and valleys as far as one could see. We
counted our odometer and saw that in the opposite direction both
lanes were filled and stopped for 35 kilometres. We counted people
and cars for a kilometre and guessed that perhaps another one hundred
thousand people were headed westward towards West Germany.
We drove along, listening to the radio. The only thing was Berlin.
Reporters went back and forth, describing the events on the streets
and where people had gathered at the wall. There were reports of
shoving and arrests. Large crowds were beginning to form into mobs.
Police stood around. There were reports of rumour of soldiers and
military vehicles, both East and West. At one point in the wall, the
crowd had begun to tear down the wall. They succeeded in carrying
away a 3 meter tall slab.
We arrived in Berlin at 4:30 a.m., five hours longer than usual. We
drove first to Brandenburgerplatz, where the statute of Winged
Victory stands atop a 50 meter column, which celebrates a military
victory in the 1890s over Denmark. Cars were abandoned everywhere,
wherever there was space. Over 5,000 people were there. I began
talking to people. We left the car and began to walk through a
village of television trucks, giant satellite dishes, emergency
generators, and coils of cables, and tents. Cameramen slept under
satellite dishes. At the wall, West German police and military was
lined up to prevent chaos. West German military trucks were lined up
against the wall, to protect it from the West Germans. Hundreds of
West German police stood in rows with their tall shields. On top of
the wall, lined up at parade rest, stood East German soldiers with
their rifles. Groups of West Germans stood around fires that they
had built. No one knew what was going on.
After a while, we walked to Potsdammer Platz. This used to be the
centre of Berlin. All traffic once passed through the Potsdammer
Platz. Now it was a large empty field, bisected by the wall. Nearby
was the mound that was the remains of Hitler's bunker, from which he
commanded Germany into total defeat. We talked to Germans and many
said that the next break in the wall would be here. It was still
very dark and cold at 5 a.m. Perhaps 7,000 people were pressed
together, shouting, cheering, clapping. We pushed through the crowd.
From the East German side we could hear the sound of heavy machines.
With a giant drill, they were punching holes in the wall. Every time
a drill poked through, everyone cheered. The banks of klieg lights
would come on. People shot off fireworks and emergency flares and
rescue rockets. Many were using hammers to chip away at the wall.
There were countless holes. At one place, a crowd of East German
soldiers looked through a narrow hole. We reached through and shook
hands. They couldn't see the crowd so they asked us what was going
on and we described the scene for them. Someone lent me a hammer and
I knocked chunks of rubble from the wall, dropping several handfuls
into my pocket. The wall was made of cheap, brittle concrete: the
Russians had used too much sand and water.
Progress seemed rather slow and we figured it would take another
hour. The car wouldn't start any more without a push. We went back
towards the city for coffee or beer or whatever. We drove down the
Kurfurstendamm (the Ku'damm), the central boulevard. Hundreds of
thousands of people were walking around, going in and out of stores,
looking around, drinking cheap East German champagne. Thousands of
champagne bottles littered the streets. Thousands of Trabis were
parked wherever they had found a space, between trees, between park
benches, on traffic islands. Everything was open: restaurants,
bars, discos, everything. Yesterday over two million East Germans
had entered Berlin. The radio reported that over 100,000 were
entering every hour. With Berlin's population of three million,
there were over five million people milling around in delirious joy
celebrating the reunion of the city after 21 years. A newspaper
wrote banner headlines: Germany is reunited in the streets!
The East German government was collapsing. East German money was
worthless. West Germany gave every East German 100 Deutschmark,
which amounted to several months wages. The radio announced that
banks and post offices would open at 9 a.m. so that the people could
pick up their cash with a stamp in their identification papers.
Thousands stood in line.
We left our car in front of the Gedankniskirchen, the Church of
Remembrance, a bombed out ruins of a church, left as a memorial to
the victims of the war.
We walked into a bar. Nearly everything was sold out. A huge crowd
was talking and laughing all at once. We found a table. An old
woman came up and asked if we were Germans. We said no, Danish, and
invited her and her family to our table. We shared chairs and beer.
They were East Germans, mother, father, and daughter. She worked in
a factory, her husband was a plumber, and the daughter worked in a
shop. They came from a small village several hundred kilometres to
the south. The old woman said that she had last seen Berlin 21 years
ago and couldn't recognize it. They told us about the chaos of the
last few weeks. I asked them what they had bought in Berlin. They
all pulled out their squirt guns. They thought it was so funny to
fill up the squirt guns with beer and shoot at everybody. The family
had chased a cat in an alley and eaten a dinner of bananas, a luxury
for them. We talked about movies; they knew the directors and
cameramen. The father was very happy at the idea of being able to
travel. He wanted to go to Peru and see Machu Picchu and then to
Egypt and see the pyramids. They had no desire to live in the West.
They knew about unemployment and drug problems. Their apartment rent
was $2 a month. A bus ticket cost less than a penny.
At seven a.m. or so, we left and headed back to the Potsdammer
Platz. Old Volkswagens don't have gas gauges. The car ran out of
gas. Someone said that there was a gas station five blocks ahead.
People joined us in pushing the car to the gas station. When we
arrived, people were standing around. The electricity had failed in
the neighbourhood so the gas pumps were dead. The owner shrugged at
the small bother and waved us towards the coffee. Dozens of East
Germans, young, old, children, stood around drinking coffee. After
an hour or so, the electricity came on and we filled up the tank.
With a crowd of people, we pushed the car up and down the street
three times to get it to start. We drove back to Potsdammer Platz.
Everything was out of control. Police on horses watched. There was
nothing they could do. The crowd had swollen. People were blowing
long alpine horns which made a huge noise. There were fireworks,
kites, flags and flags and flags, dogs, children. The wall was
finally breaking. The cranes lifted slabs aside. East and West
German police had traded caps. To get a better view, hundreds of
people were climbing onto a shop on the West German side. We
scampered up a nine foot wall. People helped each other; some
lifted, others pulled. All along the building, people poured up the
wall. At the Berlin Wall itself, which is 3 meters high, people had
climbed up and were sitting astride. The final slab was moved away.
A stream of East Germans began to pour through. People applauded and
slapped their backs. A woman handed me a giant bottle of wine, which
I opened and she and I began to pour cups of wine and hand them to
the East Germans. Journalists and TV reporters struggled to hold
their cameras. A foreign news agency's van with TV cameras on top
was in a crowd of people; it rocked and the cameramen pleaded with
the crowd. Packed in with thousands, I stood at the break in the
wall. Above me, a German stood atop the wall, at the end, balanced,
waving his arms and shouting reports to the crowd. With all of the
East Germans coming into West Berlin, we thought it was only fair
that we should go to East Berlin. A counterflow started. Looking
around, I saw an indescribable joy in people's faces. It was the end
of the government telling people what not to do, it was the end of
the Wall, the war, the East, the West. If East Germans were going
west, then we should go east, so we poured into East Berlin. Around
me, people spoke German, French, Polish, Russian, every language. A
woman handed her camera to someone who was standing atop rubble so
that he could take her picture. I passed a group of American
reporters; they didn't speak anything and couldn't understand what
was going on, pushing their microphones into people's faces, asking
"Do you speak English?" Near me, a knot of people cheered as the
mayors of East Berlin and West Berlin met and shook hands. I stood
with several East German guards, their rifles slung over their
shoulders. I asked them if they had bullets in those things. They
grinned and said no. From some houses, someone had set up
loudspeakers and played Beethoven's ninth symphony: Alle Menschen
werden Bruder. All people become brothers. On top of every building
were thousands of people. Berlin was out of control. There was no
more government, neither in East nor in West. The police and the
army were helpless. The soldiers themselves were overwhelmed by the
event. They were part of the crowd. Their uniforms meant nothing.
The Wall was down.
After a while, we left and went back to the city, to find some food.
The TV was set to East German TV. The broadcasters began showing
whatever they wanted: roving cameras in the street, film clips,
porno, speeches from parliament, statements, videos, nature films,
live interviews. West Berliners went out of their homes and brought
East Germans in for food and rest. A friend of ours in Berlin had
two families sleeping in her living room. The radio told that in
Frankfurt, a Trabi had been hit by a Mercedes. Nothing happened to
the Mercedes but the Trabi was destroyed. A crowd of people
collected money for the East German family; the driver of the
Mercedes gave them her keys and lent them her car for the weekend. A
West German went home, got his truck, and drove the Trabi back to
East Germany. Late Sunday, the West German government declared on
radio and TV that East Germans had free access to all public
transportation: buses, streetcars, and trains, plus free admission
to all zoos, museums, concerts, practically everything. More than
80% of East Germany was on vacation in West Germany, nearly 13
million people, visiting family and friends in the West. After a
week, nearly all returned home.
After a dinner of spaghetti, we got back into the Volkswagen and
headed home. The radio talked about delays of ten hours, but then
again, that was just another rumour. At the border, there were no
guards any more. Late the next morning, we were back in Denmark.
1989: The End of Communism in Central Europe
In 1848, Europe went through a year of revolution, as kings fell and
democratic governments were created. 1989 was another one of these
years for Europe. With countries that are literally a short
automobile trip apart, where people tend to know each other, where
international news is local news, political movements leap like
wildfire from city to city. April 5: Poland. The Communist
government and Solidarity agree to share power and hold free
elections. May 8: Yugoslavia. The nationalist Slobodan Milosevic
is elected as president. June 4: Poland. Solidarity wins a huge
majority of the vote, including 96 of 100 Senate seats. Aug. 19:
Poland. Mazowiecki is elected as Poland's first non-Communist prime
minister. Sept. 10: Hungary. 60,000 East Germans go through
Hungary to cross into Austria. Sept. 27: Yugoslavia. Slovenia
asserts its right to secede from Yugoslavia. Oct 7: Hungary.
Socialist Workers Party (formerly Communist) renounces Marxism,
embraces democratic socialism, and is renamed the Hungarian Socialist
Party. Oct. 18: East Germany. Mass demonstrations force President
Eric Honecker to resign. Oct. 18: Hungary. Parliament ends the
one- party monopoly and announces elections for next year. Nov. 9:
East Germany. The Berlin Wall is opened and five million people come
to Berlin to celebrate the end of the Wall, the end of the Cold War,
the end of Communism, and the reunification of Germany. Nov. 10:
Bulgaria: Todor Zhikov, head of state and leader of the Communist
Party for 35 years, resigns. Nov. 17: Czechoslovakia, Hundreds of
thousands of protesters march in Prague. Dec. 10: Czechoslavakia.
President Husak resigns and installs a coalition cabinet with
communists in the minority. Dec. 13: Bulgaria. The Communist
Party renounces their monopoly on power. Dec. 16-21: Romania.
Security forces opens fire on thousands of demonstrators; hundreds
are killed and buried in mass graves. As Christmas arrives, everyone
in Europe watches the revolution on television. Dec. 22: Romania.
The army revolts, joining with demonstrators, and the Council of
National Salvation declares the government to be overthrown. Dec.
25: Romania. In an two-hour trial, the Communist dictator Ceausecsu
and his wife are convicted of genocide and immediately executed by
machine gunfire. Dec. 26: Poland. Radical free-market reform plan
is announced. Dec. 29: Czechoslavakia. Playwright and human
rights campaigner Vaclav Havel, who spent years in prison as a
dissident, is the new president of Czechoslavakia. Links to More
Sites... To link to this page, use www.andreas.com/berlin.html.
Visit the Encyclopedia Britannica's article about the Berlin Wall.
The Free University of Berlin has a short history of the wall. A web
site in East Berlin has more links about the wall. For the 10th
Anniversary, there's www.wall-berlin.org. Matthias Melcher maintains
the University of Heidelberg's links to German history. Photos of
the Wall at www.dieberlinermauer.de (The Berlin Wall.) See Steffan
Iwersen's photos. Jim LeBlanc was a translator with the US Army
during the 80s. He took many photos of the Berlin Wall, both before
and after, which show the change in the city. Chris De Witt has a
collection of essays and pictures. Cliff Docherty wrote a
description of life in Berlin in 1983 during the wall. I was often
in Berlin throughout the 80s and his description is accurate. The
Ghost of the Wall. World Book Encyclopedia's The Wall Comes Down. A
collection of articles that examines the Berlin Wall, why it was
built, and why it fell. BiW: Berlin Wall: Background,
construction, measurements, and its fall. Chris De Witt's Berlin
Wall. Concrete Curtain. On the tenth anniversary of the fall of the
Berlin Wall. Concrete Curtain: The Life and Death of the Berlin
Wall: The Caen Memorial and the DHM of Berlin. Fall of The Berlin
Wall: Timeline of events and social and political impact. Fall of
the Berlin Wall: Photos and newspaper articles from the days after
November 9th, 1989. History Of the Berlin Wall in Text and Pictures.
Lost Border: Photographs of the Iron Curtain The landscape of the
Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall and the subsequent reconstruction of
central Berlin. footnotes... If you're writing about the Berlin
Wall for your school or studies, you can also look at other issues.
For example, Korea was also divided into two parts: communist and
Western. They also have a wall that divides the country and
families. North Korea is barely able to survive. The USA, Japan,
and China support North Korea so it won't collapse. South Korea
wants to reunify, but they can't bear the costs of developing a
country that is in near ruins. So everything that happened in
Germany will also happen again in Korea. You can learn about Korea
and compare the two.
© Andreas Ramos 1989.