From the Monitor archives: Joy in Berlin as the Wall falls

Twenty-five years ago today, the Berlin Wall came down, paving the way for the end of the cold war and the reunification of Germany. The Christian Science Monitor reported as it happened.

R. Norman Matheny/Staff/File
East Germans return home via Checkpoint Charlie after shopping in West Berlin in November 1989, after the Berlin Wall opened.
The Christian Science Monitor, ProQuest
Page 1 of the Nov. 13, 1989, edition of the Monitor.

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 13, 1989, edition of The Christian Science Monitor.

Euphoric East Berliners Stream Past Open Wall

As the celebration goes on, Krenz announces radical reforms

EAST BERLIN – "Today the German people are the happiest people in the world,” declared West Berlin Mayor Wal­ter Momper. None of the half mil­lion visitors to Berlin this weekend would disagree.

This city has been swept along in a tidal wave of euphoria ever since last Thursday’s announce­ment of new travel freedoms by the East German government. At a rate estimated by police as reaching tens of thousands an hour, East Germans are stream­ing into Berlin. Most are coming for a day or two. Border guards merely glance at identity papers and wave the East German citi­zens through checkpoints in the Berlin Wall.

Thousands of people climbed onto the wall in front of the Bran­denburg gate. They stayed there all day Friday. Pieces of the wall were broken off by hammers and pick-axes by crowds chanting, “The wall must go!”

Their efforts were more sym­bolic than effective. The largest holes in the wall were made by the East Germans themselves. Starting at just after midnight Saturday morning, East German construction crews with cranes re­moved huge concrete slabs for the first of nine new border crossings into West Berlin.

On both sides of the wall, ev­eryone wanted to help. Once crossing into West Berlin, East Germans were greeted by cheer­ing crowds all weekend long. But the greetings didn’t end there. West German government policy is to give any visiting East Ger­man 100 deutche marks (US$54) as “welcoming money.” The mon­ey is handed out at any bank or post office. On Saturday, banks were opened just to hand out money to East Germans.

Stores, usually only open until early afternoon on Saturday, stayed open until early evening. Berlin became a huge shopping mall, with car traffic excluded from all of the Kurfurstendamm and from most of downtown.

But an East German visitor had plenty of opportunities not to spend money too. Near one checkpoint, a local supermarket had installed trailer trucks and were handing out free bags of cof­fee, chocolate, juice cartons, and milk. City transportation was free to all East Germans. Most tele­phone booths near train stations and border crossing points had been adjusted to allow free tele­phone service for any visitor that wanted to call friends or family in West Germany.

Some stores were accepting East German marks in payment at a 1 to 1 exchange rate. A tele­phone bank was set up for people offering beds or temporary accommodations to East Ger­mans.

In Berlin, many of the visitors from the East had driven from as far away as Dresden. One family from Jena was heading back east at the end of the day Saturday. Two children slept despite the noisy crowd at the checkpoint. Asked how they enjoyed their vis­it, the couple said, “It was un­believable, wonderful,” and then with a look toward the children, “but a little strenuous. We hope to come back next weekend.”

The political response to the rapid change was just as historic as the size of the crowds. On Fri­day evening Chancellor Helmut Kohl, former Chancellor Willy Brandt, and Foreign Minister Hans Dietrich-Genscher ad­dressed a huge group at the Schoneberger City Hall in Berlin.

“It is certain that nothing can remain as it was in either part of Germany,” Willy Brandt said.

At the same time, on the other side of the wall in East Berlin near Alexanderplatz, Communist Par­ty Chief Egon Krenz addressed a rally of nearly 100,000 party members. Sounding more like the schoolteacher he once was, Mr. Krenz told the crowd of most­ly middle-aged party func­tionaries that the changes were here to stay. In reference to oppo­sition criticism of party privileges, he said, “Our privilege as party members is the privilege to work, and that is the only privilege.”

At the end of a three-day Cen­tral Committee meeting Friday, Krenz announced radical re­forms. They included free elec­tions, a “socialist planned econ­omy oriented to market condi­tions,” separation of party and state, freedom of assembly, changes in press law, and parlia­mentary supervision of state security.

North of where Krenz spoke, members of the opposition group New Forum met at the Gethsamene Church. Barbel Bohley, Rolf Heinrich, and a large panel of other leaders made small speeches and answered written questions. The crowd in the church was loud, but far less nu­merous than previous New Fo­rum meetings in the same space.

A representative of New Fo­rum was applauded loudly when he jokingly suggested that consid­ering the dizzying pace of change, it might not be unrealistic to ex­pect the Communist Party to step down in three or four days. He then went on to caution people against thinking that the travel freedoms and plans for free and secret elections were enough.

“The SED [The Socialist Unity Party of Germany, which ruled East Germany] still controls the government, they have over 2 million party members and an Army,” explained the representa­tive, referring to the Communist Party. “We have, as of last week, 200,000 members and have ex­isted for only two months or so.”

The tone was jubilant but Krenz’s plans for free elections would keep them waiting until 1991. The opposition and the West German government is call­ing for a rerun of last May’s election results.

In a weekend of incredible changes, more are awaited. The next are expected Monday, when the East German People’s Cham­ber meets to elect new Cabinet members and approve laws sug­gested last week. And Kohl and Krenz indicated plans to meet somewhere near East Berlin before the end of the year.

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