Germany - The Walls Came Tumbling Down

The Fall of the Walls

Gunter Schabowski's press conference immediately became the top news story.
At 7.05pm, the Associated Press announces, "GDR opens borders".
At 7.41pm. the Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA) announces, "The GDR border to Federal Republic and to West Berlin is open".
At 8.00pm the ARD Tagesschau programme broadcasts the news saying the GDR has opened its borders.

At 8pm, a clearly excited newsreader from the TV channel ARD announces the incredible news

Shortly after the news broadcast, about 80 East Berliners arrived at a number of border crossing points only to be told, "Come back tomorrow".
At around 10:00pm Egon Krenz received a phone call from Stasi chief (Erich Mielke) to say that over 1000 people were wanting to cross the Bornholmer Checkpoint. Some had been allowed across but with their passports stamped, “No right of return.”
Amazingly, at 10:30pm, clinging to the 'old ways', East German TV broadcasts that exit is still subject to an application process.
However, by 11pm huge crowds are gathering at all the Berlin crossing points.

Trying to maintain the system.......some East Berliners are allowed through with their passports stamped, "No right of return"
However, the growing crowds push forwards and begin to overwhelm the officials.

This is an extremely dangerous time as, only a few months ago, would-be escapers were shot at and arrested.
Border guards still had their orders which were to prevent anybody escaping across the border.
The officials made 'frantic' phonecalls to their superiors asking for orders, but none were received.
Some checkpoints called for reinforcements and soldiers armed with machine guns took up position.

Only a few months earlier, on the 8th April 1989, despite the repeal of the order to shoot, a Stasi passport inspector fires at two would be escapers - he misses and they are arrested.....would such an event happen again?

By 11:30pm huge crowds at the Bornholmer crossing are moving forwards. The barriers were pushed aside and people swarmed into the checkpoint area.
The Commander decided to stop checking passports and told his men to stand aside.
Midnight sees all the checkpoints forced open and thousands of East Berliners are swarming into West Berlin.

The Bornholmer Strasse crossing point between East-West Berlin just before midnight on the 9th November 1989.......huge crowds are freely walking and driving into West Berlin.

The iconic image of the crowds climbing onto the anti-tank section of the Berlin Wall in front of the Brandenburg Gate
it is difficult to believe that in 1986, following a visit to the border troops at the gate, Michail Gorbachev wrote........
"At the Brandenburg Gate, one can clearly see how much strength and true heroism the defence of the first socialist state on German soil requires against attacks of the class enemy"

An often neglected part of the story is the reaction of East German citizens living outside Berlin. A simultaneous process of Grenzöffnung (border opening) was taking place along the entire length of the Inner German border and existing crossings were opened immediately.

The three main crossing points for authorised entry-exit to East Germany.

At the Helmstedt crossing point on the Berlin–Hannover autobahn, cars were backed up for 65 km and some drivers waited 11 hours to cross to the West.
Within the first four days, 4.3 million East Germans, a quarter of the country's entire population, had poured into West Germany.

The long queue to cross at Helmstedt. This is the main crossing that was used by the Allied Forces for transit to and from West Berlin. The military checkpoint (Checkpoint Alpha) can be partially seen at the RHS of the image

On a smaller scale, villages all along the border were enjoying the freedom of life without the wall.

Mödlareuth was a village that straddled the frontier between the German states of Bavaria (West Germany) and Thuringia (East Germany)
More images of the history of this fascinating village can be read in the Extras/ Further Reading section.

'Welcome money' (Begrüßungsgeld) was, from 1970 until 29 December 1989, a gift from West Germany to visitors from the DDR.
When the borders were opened, tens of thousands of East Germans queued in front of banks and town halls in West Germany to collect their DM100 'welcome money' for the first time. It is often said that a significant amount of this money was spent purchasing bananas......a scarce luxury in the East.

In Lübeck, close to the IGB, East Germans rush to buy bananas with some of their 'welcome money'

Click this link to read about the 'power of the banana' (opens in a new window)