can still recall very well when the Wall was erected in Berlin on August 13,
1961. I resided at the time in Frankfurt, Germany, and curiously we found
out about it on the evening before through the radio station at AFN. It was
rather a suspicion that became a certainty the next morning, because the
Western Allies had been informed by trusted sources about a plan to cordon
off of West-Berlin. However, they did not know when that would occur.
Thus in the night of August 12 to August 13, 1961,
the folks’ police and the national folks’ army (police and army of the GDR)
started to build the protective
antifascists wall on orders of the SED leadership. People by the
hundreds tried still to flee to the freedom of the West but many did not
make it. In addition the access to the S- and U-Bahn (Berlin’s public rail
services, above and below ground) in the eastern part of the city was
blocked. West-Berlin’s S- and U-Bahn was not allowed to stop at
East-Berlin’s railway stations and had to continue through until they
re-entered the West. The upshot – what had not been accomplished with the
Blockade of Berlin…succeeded with the erection of the Wall of Berlin.
Three days later, August 16, 1961, the than active
mayor of Berlin Willy Brandt and 3 million West-Berliners protested the
erection of the Wall in front of Schöneberg’s city hall. Chancellor Konrad
Adenauer visited the cordoned-off Berlin only 2 weeks later.
A difficult time began for the West-Berliners. No
matter into which direction they drove by car after 25 minutes they faced
the wall and could not get any further. To drive to West Germany they had to
pass through a check point with valid identity cards. Waiting for hours on
the border made travelling difficult, the transit route became a nightmare
This nightmare would last another 28 years and
hundreds of dead fleeing the Republic plastered the dividing wall. What had
been given as a reason for the erection of the Wall, migration to the West,
infiltration, espionage, smuggling, especially the total sell-out was
directed more against the citizens of the GDR (German Democratic Republic),
it became after 3 decades a power struggle between the state and the
citizens of the GDR. Mass rallies were held for weeks in a fight for freedom
to travel, embassies in several Eastern European cities like Warsaw and
Prague were besieged. The pressure of the citizens of the GDR grew stronger
and stronger. And just a single slip of the tongue by Günter Schabowski, a
member of the SED Politburo, during the reading of the new travel
regulations for leaving the country at a press conference, televised on the
evening of November 9 (1989), makes the dream of freedom become a reality
for all citizens of the GDR.
"Private cross-border travels can be requested
without conditions – (like) reasons for travel and family relationships.
Permissions will be given immediately. Effective immediately…was
Schabowski’s answer to a journalist’s question "when will this go into
effect?". With this short reply the Wall tumbled on November 9th
(1989) at 18:57 hours (6.57 pm).
From that instance the pressure of the citizens of
East-Berlin mounted to such a degree that at 23:30 hours (11.30 pm.)
Lieutenant Colonel Jäger opens the border crossing on Bornholmer Straße (Bornholmer
Street) in the district of Wedding.
Within the same hour East and West lie in each
other’s arms, cry for happiness and cannot fathom the unfathomable. The city
stands on its head and I, too, rush to Bornholmer Street, I join the
celebration and witness terrible tragedies. A 17 year old collapses in the
arms of his hurriedly arriving Western uncle, can only scream and cry
because he left his identity card at home on the refrigerator in his believe
without it he can not precede any further. But return he did not want under
any circumstances, "never ever back to the GDR", he screamed again and
again. I am totally astounded how well we are organized …buses stand ready
to take people into the city, representatives of law and order ask for
citizens of the GDR whom they want to bring to transit camps so they have a
roof over their head. The pubs are in the area are full and everyone
cheers…cars honk their horns, champagne flows and there is no end to the
celebrations. For days! The Kurfürstendamm (Berlin’s promenade) overflows,
the (U-Bahn) subway drives in 1 minute intervals and tickets are not needed
during these days.
Suddenly it comes to me what this means to us in
the western part of Berlin. We can finally travel without a border, no wall
stops us after 25 minutes, continuing to travel without passport control and
fear of being denied passage. What a feeling.
My work at radio and television stations turns
into a 24 hour job. I get hardly any sleep anymore and travel constantly
without stops during those years, and wonderful friendships develop in the
eastern part of the country.
The country blossomed and yet unemployment rose.
What kind of dangerous statement was made by Chancellor Helmut Kohl: "nobody
shall fare worse". Many companies have to close in the East, the people get
more and more dissatisfied. The security they were used to the West cannot
give. The affordable bread and roll for 5 pennies at GDR’s time has become
an expensive food item today. The poverty level of the Germans climbs
rapidly…was this how one had imagined the golden West? Many dreams and
wishes did not come true. Had the Banana (Federal) Republic been overrated?
Did the people of the GDR really believe it possible to be able to buy any
merchandise on display? What in 1989 was the wish for freedom turns today
into the goal for social justice. But justice…does it still exist in this
world??? Wasn’t the East turned into beautiful blossoming landscapes? Look
at Mecklenburg Vorpommern, the isle of Rügen shines brightly white. Dresden
has his Frauenkirche (famous church of Dresden) restored, and what about the
Gedächtniskirche (church of remembrance) in Berlin??? It crumbles silently
away, traditional stores have to close on Kurfürstendamm, theatres get no
Can freedom lead thus to unity? I hope we can find
the way to unity together. Yet sometimes I believe this is more difficult
than tearing down the wall. None of the solemnly pledged wonderful
friendships exist anymore. I am all but forgotten.
Yet I believe in the goodness of man and hope is a