Mauerfall: The Berlin Wall Fell 30 Years Ago

‘This Ninth of November is an Historic Day’

The Brandenburg Gate stood between East and West Germany, essentially becoming part of the Berlin Wall.

The Brandenburg Gate stood between East and West Germany, essentially becoming part of the Berlin Wall.

By Accura News on 8 November 2019
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On November 9, 1989, a somewhat comical slipup toppled the Berlin Wall when Günter Schabowski, the newly minted spokesman of the East German Politbüro, as a footnote to a press conference, added a statement concerning plans to lift travel restrictions between East and West.  When an Italian reporter asked when the change would come into effect, Schabowski assumed it would be the same day and replied, “Das tritt nach meiner Kenntnis … ist das sofort … unverzüglich” (“As far as I know … effective immediately, without delay”).

In other words, Schabowski implied that the checkpoints at the Berlin Wall – the concrete barrier that physically and ideologically divided East Germany and West Germany, which were guarded by soldiers with orders to shoot anyone trying to cross – were now open.

Schabowski then repeated the statement in an interview with NBC reporter Tom Brokaw after the press conference. Within East Germany, the news began to spread after the West German Deutsche Presse-Agentur issued a bulletin incorporating Schabowski’s statement and the two leading West German network news programs, ZDF’s heute and ARD’s Tagesschau broadcast excerpts of the press conference to an audience that included most of East Germany.

Later the same evening, Hanns Joachim Friedrichs, the anchorman of the ARD Tagesthemen news broadcast, made a more pronounced proclamation: “Dieser 9. November ist ein historischer Tag. Die DDR hat mitgeteilt, daß ihre Grenzen für jedermann geöffnet sind, die Tore in der Mauer stehen weit offen.” (“This ninth of November is an historic day.  The GDR has announced that its borders are open to everyone. The gates in the Wall stand wide open.”

The gates to the wall weren’t open but it didn’t stop jubilant East Berliners from storming the checkpoints and demanding the right to cross into West Berlin, most making that journey for the very first time.  Many cited what Schabowski had said on television just hours earlier.

The surprised and in some cases greatly overwhelmed guards at the Wall’s six checkpoints turned to their superiors and no one in authority in East Germany wanted to take responsibility for the use of lethal force.

At 11:30 p.m Central European Time still on November 9, Harald Jäger, commander of the DDR-Grenzübergangsstelle Bornholmer Straße or Bornholmer Straße border crossing, yielded to the protestors, ordering his guards to open the gates and allow the ever increasing crowd of East Germans through without having their identify cards checked.  The jubilant Ossis were greeted by equally exuberant Wessis waiting with flowers and sparkling wine.  West Germans jumped on top of the Wall and began to dance, soon joined by East Germans.

Another way of looking at it is that the fall of the wall was, in fact, a kind of accident, an almost farcical bureaucratic mistake that snowballed thanks to an Italian and an American journalist.

And while the Wall did not physically come down that evening, the ninth of November is nonetheless known as the day of the Mauerfall, the day that the wall fell.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)