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  • If you know one thing about the fall of the Berlin Wall, it might be this.

  • REAGAN: Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.

  • Or this.

  • Or maybe...

  • HASSELHOFF: I've been looking for freedom!

  • These moments were huge in unifying Berlin and undermining the physical symbol of a divided

  • Europe during the Cold War.

  • But they don't top this one. The last few minutes of an otherwise uneventful press conference

  • on November 9th, 1989:

  • It might not look like it, but this is the moment the Berlin Wall became obsoletecompletely

  • by mistake.

  • After the allied powers defeated Nazi Germany in World War II, they divided the country

  • into four parts, each controlled by a separate power.

  • These formed into two new countries in 1949.

  • Democratic West Germany and Soviet-controlled communist East Germany, officially named the

  • German Democratic Republic, or GDR.

  • Through the 1950s, West Germany prospered as a free society and industrious member of

  • Europe, and hundreds of thousands of East Germans began emigrating west, in search of

  • new opportunities.

  • To stem the tide, the GDR erected a barrier along the Inner German Border.

  • Separating the two countries with barbed wire, guarded checkpoints, and, in many places,

  • defensive measures like land mines.

  • But there was a loopholein Berlin.

  • And it goes back to when the 4 allied powers controlled Germany.

  • See, even though the German capital was well inside the Soviet zone, the allies divided

  • control of it equally to match the rest of the country.

  • And when East and West Germany formed, so did East and West Berlin.

  • Even as the Inner German Border fortified, Berlin had no physical barrier dividing it.

  • East Germans could simply walk or take public transportation to the Western part of the

  • city and travel freely from there.

  • ARCHIVE: The island of West Berlin had become the staging point for the free road to the

  • West.

  • Thisbrain draintook a huge toll on East Germany's labor force.

  • By 1961, more than 3.5 million East Germans, approximately 20% of the population, had fled

  • to the Westthe majority of which were young and well-educated.

  • But the Berlin loophole closed on Aug 13th, 1961, when the city woke up to East German

  • soldiers standing shoulder-to-shoulder along the invisible line dividing East and West

  • Berlin.

  • Unannounced, they began unrolling kilometers of barbed wire through the middle of the city.

  • They were building the Berlin Wall.

  • ARCHIVE: Brick by brick, until no contact but a friendly wave.

  • Travel out of East Berlin became strictly regulated.

  • No one could leave unless they met strict requirements.

  • And those who didn't faced a nearly impassable barrier, complete with floodlights and guard

  • towers.

  • Where armed border guards patrolled day and night, with orders to shoot and kill anyone

  • trying to cross illegally.

  • And that's how it remained for 28 years.

  • But change came in late 1989.

  • Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev had introduced social reforms meant to relax oppressive practices

  • and open up discourse between people and government.

  • These changes sparked massive peaceful uprisings throughout Eastern Bloc countries, including

  • East Germany.

  • BAUMBACH: Things had kind of heated up all summer.

  • In 1989, Catherine Baumbach was a young translator working for the East German news agency.

  • BAUMBACH: And there were the famous Monday demonstrations in Leipzig, actually my college

  • town. Initially thousands, then tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands.

  • Freedom of expression and freedom to travel were key demands.

  • And pressure on the GDR to loosen travel restrictions only grew as neighboring countries, particularly

  • Hungary and Czechoslovakia, relaxed their border laws, prompting a mass southward exodus

  • of East Germans.

  • By early November 1989, more than 40,000 East German refugees had arrived at the West German

  • embassy in Prague, hoping to travel to the West.

  • The GDR was facing a crisis.

  • BAUMBACH: There were forces in the government that realized something had to be done. This

  • was not sustainable. So lifting the travel ban was one way that they thought they could

  • quell the protests and make people happy.

  • On November 8th, 1989, GDR official Gerhard Lauter was tasked with drafting looser travel

  • regulations, meant to be a temporary pressure release.

  • The new rules were finalized less than a day later, and read:

  • Private trips abroad can be applied for without conditions. Permits are issued on

  • short notice.”

  • Without conditions.” That's the key phrase here.

  • This meant the strict application requirements were eliminated, and anyone who wanted could

  • leave East Germany and come back.

  • That afternoon, the updated regulations were handed to government spokesmannter Schabowski,

  • just as he was about to begin a routine press conference.

  • BAUMBACH: And as we all know, something kind of didn't go quite right there.

  • He had no time to review them before sitting in front of cameras.

  • And as you can see from his handwrittenroadmapof the press conference, he scribbled in a

  • reminder to announce them at the very end.

  • And on live TV at 6:53 PM on November 9th, he read the relaxed travel laws, for the first

  • time, out loud.

  • BAUMBACH: It seemed totally unreal. But it was Schabowski saying it and it was broadcast

  • on official television so it had to be true. There were people around me, older colleagues,

  • who immediately said, “this is the beginning of the end.”

  • Watch a confused Schabowski shuffle his papers when a journalist asks a simple follow-up

  • question.

  • The thing is, if Schabowski had had time to read the new rules, he might have seen this

  • on the final page:

  • The new regulations were meant to go into effect the following day, in an orderly manner,

  • when the passport offices were open.

  • What happened next can only be described as a chain reaction.

  • By 7:05 PM, the AP wire had already gone out: GDR opens borders.

  • And both East and West German nightly news reports announced the stunning policy reversal.

  • East Berliners began gathering at the wall, and security officers tried to let them through

  • slowly.

  • But the final nail in the coffin came at 10:42 pm, when this broadcast triggered a mass rush:

  • They actually weren't yet. But by this point, there was no going back.

  • Tens of thousands of Berliners stormed the Wall, saying they heard on the news that they

  • could cross.

  • The outnumbered East German border guards were completely overwhelmed.

  • BAUMBACH: Somehow they hadn't gotten the message, or they didn't know what to do,

  • or they were afraid, who knows. But they basically opened the border and thousands of people

  • streamed into West Berlin.

  • Over its 28-year history, at least 140 people died trying to cross the Berlin Wall.

  • BAUMBACH: November 9th, plus unification a year later, was the most decisive event in

  • my life. I basically went from one political system to another, and changes happened very

  • quickly.

  • And it happened unintentionally.

  • The result of a rushed plan and a botched announcement, delivered in a small room at

  • the end of a boring press conference.

If you know one thing about the fall of the Berlin Wall, it might be this.

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The mistake that toppled the Berlin Wall

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    林宜悉 posted on 2020/10/16
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