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A Positive Blunder In History

GERMANY | Tuesday, 19 August 2014 | Views [4370] | Comments [1]

Man, I wish I was at that press conference! The one on November 9th, 1989 when Günter Schabowski, the unofficial spokesman for the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED), announced to a room full of gathered journalists that travel restrictions between East and West Germany would be eased. I can only imagine the jubilation that would of flowed like a raging torrent from outside those doors and onto the streets of Germany. 28 years of oppression would be over with the monumental collapse off the Berlin Wall later that night. This was all because of Günter Schabowski’s three day holiday he took at an inopportune moment.

After the forced resignation of the SED’s long time leader, Erich Honecker, the East German regime began to make a series of changes to alter its image. One of these changes was to begin allowing some people to cross the border from East to West, but only with the correct official permissions in place. This was to come into effect the following afternoon, allowing for officials to prepare properly for the changes.

However when Schabowski returned from his short stint away from office he was simply handed a note about what the plans were without any specific details. When he stood in front of the press and read the note aloud a reporter asked him when this was to occur. His uninformed reply was, "As far as I know, effective immediately, without delay.” Within hours thousands of East Germans had stormed the Berlin Wall, demanding to be let through. Unable and unwilling to do anything about this, the border guards simply opened the doors. It was the undesired end of the regime.

Of all the fascinating tidbits of history I learnt from our ‘New Berlin’ free walking tour of the city, it was this story told by our knowledgeable guide Rob McCracken that excited me the most.

Jewish Holocaust Memorial

The Jewish Holocaust Memorial

Yes, the details of Hitler’s last days spent holed up in his bunker like a rat in a cage intrigued me, and I liked the fact that his infamous military control point now lies beneath a nondescript carpark. Such an evil man does not deserve to have any part of his life celebrated.

The location of Checkpoint Charlie which is now home to a multitude of currywurst stands and, more interestingly, a McDonalds was emotionally moving despite its now touristy design.

I will never forget the feeling of concrete blocks crushing my soul as I walked through the Jewish Holocaust Memorial. My heart tore in two from the thought of 6 million lives lost to the wicked Nazi movement.

Checkpoint Charlie

Checkpoint Charlie and the image of Sergeant Harper, one of the last American soliders to be stationed here.

These things are incredibly important parts of history and I am thankful that from this walking tour I have a better understanding of it. But I chose to focus on the tale of that extraordinary press conference.

After spending two days wandering around the city, analysing countless pieces of street art that were filled with messages of pained political and social turmoil it was astonishing to begin picturing myself sitting in that room with Günter Schabowski. I had walked the length of the East Side Gallery four times studying the inside layers of the Berlin Wall’s graffiti. I had seen images and read stories of the people’s desires to escape over the wall from East to West. I had now heard of the moment they were finally able to be set free.

The positive implications of Schabowski’s blunder rolled out across the city in an ever-growing wave of progress. That press conference would change the future of Berlin, and indeed Germany in such radical ways. To have been in that room on November 9th, 1989 would of been decisively uplifting. I wish I had of been there to shake Günter Schabowski’s hand and tell him he made the right mistake!

Berlin Heart You

Pointing at the Berlin Wall is this sign on top of a small shop. A huge indication of Berlin's ability to face its past and give it a massive middle finger.

Tags: berlin, berlin wall, germany, history



I shared similar feelings as you describe at both the wall and the Holocaust Museum, I simply couldn't stay in the information area under the memorial as tears rolled from reading the scraps of notes imbedded in the floor. Love the story and thanks for that explanation, I had never heard how the collapse of the wall came about and it now has even more meaning, great writing.

  Helene Jermolajew Aug 19, 2014 9:45 AM

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