The international news conference on November 9th was so achingly dull that Tom Brokaw admitted he was “bored.”
But it helped kick off the end of the Berlin Wall.
Guenter Schabowski of the Politburo was becoming “communist famous” through his live press appearances.
In the midst of the usual bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo, Schabowski blurted out: trips abroad would be “possible for every citizen,” starting “right away, immediately”.
While a new set of regulations were due to come in that would make it easier for East Germans to travel, there was no “decision” to open the border.
The last death during an attempt to escape the Berlin Wall had happened 10 days earlier.
Across the border, a West German television channel, ARD, reported the news cautiously at first.
Then went bigger.
Hanns Friedrichs, the German Conkrite announced: “This ninth of November is a historic day.” East Germany “has announced that starting immediately, its borders are open to everyone.”
Tens of thousands of East Germans started turning up at the border demanding to be let across.
The guards asked their headquarters for orders but the government ministries in charge of security told them nothing.
With radio and TV reports bringing more people on to the streets, the border guards themselves decided what to do.
When a Stasi officer named Harald Jäger repeatedly reported the growing crowds at the Berlin Wall, his superiors called him a delusional coward!
Insulted, furious and frightened, he decided to let the crowds out.
Communist reformer Hans Modrow says :
“With hindsight, it’s the border guards we must thank, not any of us in the Politburo. The guards on the ground – at the time – made the critical decision. They ignored their standing orders. They said, ‘Open the border.'”
Happy World Freedom Day.
Siobhan is a freelance writer, research addict and lover of twisted history. If you like horrible but amazing history, check out her website www.interesly.com or Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/interesly. Or you can reach her through www.siobhanoshea.com.