Written by Florian Kastl
There is hardly any other date in the latest German history that has influenced the country more than November 9th, 1989. It is the time where the Berlin Wall came down, and people from the east and the west could meet again in freedom for almost 30 years. It was also the event that made the reunification of Germany possible only one year later, on October 3rd, 1990.
The Division of Germany
After World War II had ended, the remaining parts of the former Reich have been divided by the victorious forces into four sectors. But after only a few years, the relationship between the three western occupants USA, France and the United Kingdom on one side and the Soviet Union on the other side became colder and colder – so cold that the Cold War came on the rise. But not only the country itself was divided into sectors, but also the capital Berlin. The eastern area of the Soviet Union soon became part of the Soviet occupation zone which later was acclaimed as the German Democratic Republic, whereas West-Berlin remained more or less independent, but also was strongly connected with the German Federal Republic that had been founded in the meantime in the three western sectors. As the tensions grew, the Soviets went the whole hog and built a wall between their part of Berlin and the western sectors. Soon, the rest of the inner German border followed. Since 1961, Germany, therefore, used to be a divided country – not only by state and ideology but also by barbed wire and fences. The “real” concrete wall thus was only to be found in Berlin.
Tension rises in East Germany
Over the years, it became more and more apparent that the socialist state could not provide as much wealth and especially freedom for its citizens. The social and political tensions grew inside the eastern bloc and also inside the GDR. Many people demonstrated in the streets in the late 1980s. But luckily, those demonstrations remained peaceful. The tipping point has thus been the fact that Hungary has disabled its border controls so thousands of East-German citizens could flee into the west crossing the Austro-Hungarian border. Hungary then stopped further Germans to do the same and brought them back to their country, while the government of the GDR prohibited its citizens from traveling to Hungary any more. In the meantime, also Czechoslovakia opened its borders towards Bavaria. Those who have been on their way through Czechoslovakia got informed about the events and entered the West German embassy in Prague. They could do so because West-Germany still saw them as “Germans” and therefore also their citizens. In the following weeks, they were more or less trapped in that embassy. Something had to happen.
The missunderstanding that led to the Fall of the Berlin Wall
In the meantime, the leader of the GDR, Erich Honecker, resigned and Egon Krenz became his successor. He did not want to close the borders to Czechoslovakia because an agreement of free traveling which made even more East-Germans go to the neighbor countries. Günter Schabowski, the spokesman of the SED party, was therefore chosen to communicate new regulations of traveling to the public on November 9th. Those rules included opening the borders between East and West of Germany, which made the wall in fact fall that day. But as Schabowski did not know, the regulations should officially come into force the other day. Though as he was asked about the point of time they will be official, he just said: “As far as I know effective immediately, without delay.” Those words are not only still one of the best known in Germany, but were a point of no return: The Berlin Wall fell just that night – more or less by mistake.