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November 9, 1989, the day that changed the world

UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY NEWS) — It was around 7 pm when a member of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the “Workers and Peasants’ State” in the German Democratic Republic fired the bomb in front of dozens of stunned journalists: the opening of the Berlin Wall.

Günter Shapovsky, looking at blog notes, seemed to be trying to understand what was being written. On the evening of November 9, 1989, he said, “As far as I know, the decision will come into effect immediately, without delay …”

This first-class leader appeared to be making a presentation at a press conference and was responding to questions about the conditions for East German citizens to leave their country.

After that, he never got back.

Thirty years later, the debate continues: was the fall of the Berlin Wall a prelude to the collapse of the entire Communist camp, an incident in history? Or the fruit of hatred for a poorly prepared communist regime? Or is a step calculated by a dictatorship in East Germany no longer viable?

– They vote “with their feet” –

In the corridors of power in East Berlin, in the luxurious residences of the Vandlitz district where senior state officials were staying in the north of the city, tension was clear and the question was: how to save the situation?

The East German population, trapped behind the Iron Curtain since 1961, has been voting with their “feet”: since August 1989, they have moved to West Germany through other countries in the East Camp that have become more and more blind eyes, such as Hungary and Czechoslovakia.

At the same time, since September, hundreds of thousands of East Germans have been demonstrating every week in several cities against the regime, shouting slogans such as “We the people” and “We want to get out.”

The crisis culminated in the German Democratic Republic’s reluctance to rely on the intervention of the “Soviet Big Brother”.

– “Life punishes those who are late” –

In Moscow, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev repeated only the words “perestroika” (restructuring) and “glasnost” (transparency).

Didn’t Gorbachev warn in early October that Erich Honecker, the strongman of the GDR, who praised China months ago for “crushing the counterrevolutionary rebellion” in Tiananmen Square, warned that “life punishes those who are late”?

Days later, on October 18, Honecare was removed to take over Aegean Krents.

Mr Krentz, who has been described as more moderate, had intended to bail out Germany with some reforms, notably the liberalization of travel by granting exit visas without any precondition.

– “Immediately” or wrong? – Hey.

Thus, Günter Shapovsky was entrusted with the task of announcing the evening of 9 November 1989 on television, the mitigation measures decided on the same day by a mini-committee. From this point on, novels vary.

Egon Krentz continues to resent Gunter Shapovsky, who accuses him of dragging the GDR into a “difficult situation” by announcing, on his own initiative, measures to allow the country to leave immediately.

According to Krentz, he had to read a statement declaring the liberation of travel the following morning. The aim was to allow citizens to exit in a controlled manner after obtaining a compulsory visa, and to maintain border facilities rather than suddenly topple the Berlin Wall, along with a democratic Germany.

Was it a mistake in the referee committed under pressure or a calculated initiative? Until his death in 2015 about 86 years, Gunter Shapovsky did not clearly answer this question.

– “He didn’t know what would happen” –

“No one was able to stop the movement that was launched with my ad,” said Shapovsky, an analyst to show that he was a fierce reformer.

According to his account, on November 9, 1989, a small group of reformists imposed the unprepared opening of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, dominated by an old guard of Stalinist heirs.

“We have come to the conclusion that if we want to save the GDR, we must allow the departure of people who want to escape,” Shapovsky told the Tagessetung newspaper in 2009.

But the former East German dissident and German parliament speaker Wolfgang Thiersee is convinced that Gunter Shapovsky did not realize the importance of his announcement.

“I don’t think he knew what was going to happen,” he told public radio. “We doubted that something was being prepared about freedom of travel because the Communist Party wanted to lift the cover a little to reduce tension. But Shapowski did not suspect that the cover would fly completely.”

– Merkel in between.

After all, the result surprised all democratic Germany and changed the international situation after 40 years of cold war.

After hearing the message on radio and television or reporting the news, thousands of East Germans poured quickly throughout the evening and into the border posts.

First they seemed skeptical and unable to believe it, and then rushed strongly encouraged by Berliners in the west who were celebrating on the other side of the wall.

In front of the growing crowds, the gates of the crossings opened wide. The first checkpoint in Berlin was on Bournholmer. The current chancellor, Angela Merkel, was one of those East Germans who gathered at the crossing to move, believing what was happening. West symbol of freedom.

Merkel lived in the neighborhood and just came out of the steam bath. “We were unable to speak and were happy,” she told ARD television. The chemistry researcher at the GDR Academy of Sciences went to celebrate in the evening and drank a “bottle of beer” from friends in the West, then quietly returned home.

“The reception in West Berlin was very warm,” she wrote in the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper.

Shortly afterwards, the Invalied Street crossing and the checkpoint known as Checkpoint Charlie opened. Border guards who have been overtaken by events and many of whom have not been informed of party decisions have in most cases abandoned procedures. Police also retreated. “We are lost just like you,” a border worker told a Berlin resident.

– A national anthem and a “historic” day –

Members of the West German House of Representatives, who are still stationed in the “temporary” capital of Bonn, since 8 pm, realized the magnitude of the earthquake. Former Chancellor Willy Brandt, the godfather of the new policy of rapprochement with the Eastern Bloc (Ostpolitik), appeared with tears in his eyes.

At 10.40pm, state television news star Hans-Joachim Friedrich announced that “East Berlin is opening the wall.” Shortly afterwards, the mayor of West Berlin, Walter Mumber, spoke of a “historic” day.

“The Berlin Wall is no longer dividing anything,” wrote Agence France-Presse journalists that night with great emotion and a sense of history.

On that insane night, East and West Berliners climbed the wall at the Brandenburg Gate, the symbol of the city’s division, and some took out hammers and attacked the 160-kilometer concrete wall.

Images and footage of celebrations and influential encounters of people have swept since the end of the war.

As for Gunter Shapovsky, the messenger who opened the wall, history ended badly for him.


This article is written and prepared by our foreign editors writing for OBSERVATORY NEWS from different countries around the world – material edited and published by OBSERVATORY staff in our newsroom.

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