Germany - The Walls Came Tumbling Down

The Summer and Autumn of 1989

I spent the summer of 1989 in West Berlin with my family, living in the caravan park at RAF Gatow.

(For details of how the Allied forces travelled between West Berlin and West Germany, see Extras / Allied Travel)

When we left at the end of August I had absolutely no idea that dramatic changes were in the seemed business as usual.

August 29th 1989......on the banks of the River Spree near the Reichstag.
The border defences are clearly visible. About 10 weeks later they were all gone.

I was not alone in thinking that nothing would change.........
"The Wall will remain as long as the conditions that led to its construction are not changed. It will still exist in 50 or even 100 years." - Erich Honeker 19th January 1989.

The story of how these changes came about is incredibly complex but I have broken it down into, hopefully, easy to understand stages.

March 1985

Mikhail Gorbachev becomes the Secretary-General of the Soviet Union.
He initiates new policies........glasnost and perestroika (openess & political reform) and gives new freedoms to communist countries.
Gorbachev criticises Erich Honeker (the East German leader) for his reserve towards the new Soviet policies.

June 1987

President Reagan makes his "Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall" speech in Berlin.


Erich Honecker's DDR is in deep trouble.
The supply of consumer goods and food cannot match demand.
The infrastructure is decaying and the environment is being damaged.
Debts to the West have spiralled out of control.
The Stasi (State Security) warns of a 'deteriorating mood among the people'.

January 1989

Thirty five countries meet in Vienna for the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE).
One of the outcomes is to guarantee the right of individuals to leave and return to their countries.
Over 100,000 East Germans are waiting for their application to leave the country to be approved.

February - March - April 1989

Chris Gueffroy is shot dead attempting to escape from East Berlin.
In March, Winfried Freudenberg is killed when his hot air balloon crashes after crossing into West Berlin.
Erich Honecker states that, "it is better to let someone get away than to use firearms in the current political situation".
He secretly revokes the "order to shoot" policy.

May 1989

Hungary begins to dismantle its border with Austria (the significance of this event can be seen in the map above)
However, at this time, East German citizens trying to cross the border are arrested and returned to the DDR.
Many DDR citizens occupy the West German Embassies in Warsaw, Prague and Budapest.

July - August 1989

Thousands of East German citizens go on holiday to Hungary.
On the 19th August, a Pan-European Picnic is organised close to the Austrian border.
The road between Hungary and Austria was opened for three hours.
Hungarian border guards are ordered to face towards Austria and, “keep your eyes shut and let them through”.
Many East German citizens end up in Austria.

September 1989

Hungary opens the border to Austria for all citizens.
Czech police still try to prevent further East Germans accessing the West German Embassy in Prague or crosssing their border into Hungary.

September 1989

The Prague embassy has over 12,000 East Germans in their grounds.
Honecker agrees to allow them to travel to West Germany by train but via East Germany.
The carriage doors are locked and during the trip their passports will be confiscated and their citizenship withdrawn.
Travelling through the DDR the track is lined with East Germans cheering the refugees.....who tear up their passports and throw them from the train.