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In "Beyond the Ideological Lie: The Revolution of 1989 Thirty Years Later", Daniel J. Mahoney goes to great lengths to put this event in question in context to not down play the significance of world wide events taking place:

Poland was the first to go, with the “round-table” agreements that peacefully turned over the governance of the country to a political opposition inspired by the Polish pope and the struggles of the underground Solidarnosc movement. Next, the Hungarians reburied Premier Imre Nagy in June of 1989, one of the heroes of the great anti-totalitarian revolution of 1956, with hundreds of thousands of people demanding political freedom and authentic nationhood. Even the relatively soft goulash Communism of Jânos Kádár was finished. East Germans began fleeing their prison-state in the summer and fall of 1989, making their way to Hungary and then Austria and West Germany. Massive demonstrations followed in Leipzig and other major cities. Soon the repulsive Honecker, the last of the East German hardliners, was summarily dismissed by the East German Politburo.

But next describes an event I have never heard of, emphasis mine:

The regime of the Stasi was paralyzed when confronted by a civil society demanding liberation from enforced lies. The Berlin Wall was breached on November 9, 1989 after a mid-level East German official inadvertently declared it open. By June of 1990, Germany was whole and free.

Was the immediate reason the Wall was effectively breached because of a mistake of a mid-level official?

  • 1
    Sure you enjoy that: Later that night the Brandenburg Gate was declared free for passers-by, then closed again with a wall of soldiers. But an upright socialist woman still wanted to go there (not even cross the border), 'discussions' ensue and the faces all around are just priceless youtube.com/watch?v=b3TzsGQYppk – LаngLаngС Nov 4 at 20:57
  • Timely, here's a Vox produced video, "The mistake that toppled the Berlin Wall" of this question/answer. Even has video of Schabowski saying that the unrestricted travel can begin "Immediately. Without Delay." (0:42) – BruceWayne Nov 8 at 15:33
87

Practically, this is exactly what happened.

Günter Schabowski gets a little folded text note that he knew nothing about informing him about new planned travel regulations. Schabowski went on to announce those in the then daily evening press briefings. He was not even supposed to read it out in that way and if he did in knowledge of what the Politbüro discussed at least to explain that from the next day onwards, people were allowed to make visits to the West crossing over all "established border crossings".

Note that he mainly talked about "travel" beforehand and 'permanent travel' (in GDR talk, Ausreise = emigration) in the crucial passage. In essence the new regulation was meant only to stop emigration via West German embassies in Prague, Warsaw etc, to bring that whole messy procedure back into the hands of East Germany. That exact regulation wasn't meant to allow short travel visites with East Germans returning voluntarily home, but only speeding up emigration.

Now emigration should be possible without all previous arbitrary reasons needed to obtain a permit. That was all thought of being an orderly administrative process, with people still applying for permits, at their local people's police station, although in intent being granted those swiftly. Nice detail: they would get a permit swiftly but still had to use a passport. And that would take on average six weeks to process.

And also crucially this new regulation coming into effect only at morning next day, after the border guards were briefed how to handle that in detail. Nothing of the sort happened. Because Schabowski didn't know the unwritten details and omitted the coming into effect date.

After being asked about the date for it to become effective he simply inferred (mumbling and shuffling through his papers): "immediately".

That meant that via worldwide television the citizens heard that anyone could now "Go West", no strings attached whatsoever. Clearly a misunderstanding, but neither Schabowski nor the other press people bothered to look into any details. One factor being that GDR talk used Ausreise (literally 'travel out' ie permanent emigration, although in ordinary German still used and just meaning the point in time that a traveling man crosses a border) as well as Reise (ordinary 'travel' in all German talk, meaning leaving a land and at some time returning to it) in a conundrum of speech regulations.

As the citizens of East Berlin then set in move en masse towards the border quoting the party official from the "party that was always right" the border guards were stooped and asked around what to do. At first they didn't believe it at all and just held them up. Then they let a few through but the guards stamped the passports of those they did let through as "permanently gave up GDR citizenship" ('a never to return troublemaker anyways'). Only those that were let through for what they intended mostly: 'a short walk in the west' (most came without any baggage and out of curiosity), motivated still others to also come (knowing nothing about technically loosing citizenship in the process). After a few hours the guards gave up everything, let through a human wave unhindered and the next day the party accepted a fait accompli.

Günter Schabowski: Press conference: the opening of the Berlin Wall

October 1989, Schabowski, along with several other members of the Politbüro, turned on longtime SED leader Erich Honecker and forced him to step down in favor of Egon Krenz. As part of the effort to change the regime's image, Schabowski was named the regime's unofficial spokesman, and he held several daily press conferences to announce changes. He had already been in charge of media affairs for the Politbüro before then. He was also reportedly named the number-two man in the SED, Krenz's old role. Schabowski had spent most of his career in Communist-style journalism, in which reporters were told what to write after events had already happened. He thus found it somewhat difficult to get used to Western-style media practice.

On 9 November 1989, shortly before that day's press conference, Krenz handed Schabowski a text containing new, temporary travel regulations. The text stipulated that East German citizens could apply for permission to travel abroad without having to meet the previous requirements for those trips, and also allowed for permanent emigration between all border crossings—including those between East and West Berlin. The text was supposed to be embargoed until the next morning.

Schabowski had not been on hand when Krenz read the text earlier in the day to several Politbüro members during a cigarette break at that day's Central Committee plenum, nor had he been there when it was discussed before the full committee. However, he felt comfortable discussing it at the press conference; he later said that all one needed to do in order to conduct a press conference was be able to speak German and read a text without mistakes. Accordingly, he read the note aloud at the end of the press conference. One of the reporters asked when the regulations would come into effect. Schabowski assumed it would be the same day based on the wording of the note, and replied after a few seconds' pause: "As far as I know — effective immediately, without delay." (German: Das tritt nach meiner Kenntnis … ist das sofort … unverzüglich.) Accounts differ on who asked that question. Both Riccardo Ehrman, the Berlin correspondent of the ANSA news agency, and German Bild Zeitung (a tabloid) reporter Peter Brinkmann were sitting on the front row at the press conference, and claimed to have asked when the regulations would come into force.

Later, when asked whether the new regulations also applied to travel between East and West Berlin, Schabowski looked at the text again and discovered that they did. When Daniel Johnson of The Daily Telegraph asked what that meant for the Berlin Wall, Schabowski sat frozen before giving a rambling statement about the Wall being tied to the larger disarmament question.

After the press conference, Schabowski sat down for a live interview with NBC's Tom Brokaw. When Brokaw asked him if it was indeed true that East Germans could now travel without having to go through a third country, Schabowski replied in broken English that East Germans were "not further forced to leave GDR by transit through another country," and could now "go through the border." When Brokaw asked if this meant "freedom of travel," Schabowski replied, "Yes of course," and added that it was not "a question of tourism," but "a permission of leaving GDR."

The West German public national television channels showed parts of Schabowski's press conference in their main evening news reports at 7:17 PM on ZDF's heute and at 8 PM on ARD's Tagesschau; this meant that the news was broadcast to nearly all of East Germany, where West German television was widely watched, as well. The news then spread like wildfire with news reports continuing to repeat the news throughout the night.

As the night progressed, thousands of East Berliners began proceeding to the six border crossings along the Berlin Wall. They demanded to be let through. Live TV reported on the gathering people which only increased the numbers of East Berliners coming to the gates. The crowds vastly outnumbered the border guards who initially tried to stall for time. However, no one was willing to order deadly force. Finally, at 11:30 pm, Stasi officer Harald Jäger decided to open the gates at the Bornholmer Straße border crossing and allow people into West Berlin.

The fall of the Berlin Wall was the key event leading to the end of the East German regime, a state that had been crumbling for many weeks as citizens had been fleeing through intermediate countries surrounding East Germany. Indeed, Victor Sebestyen later wrote that when the gates were opened, for all intents and purposes, East Germany "ceased to exist." He also wrote that many of Schabowski's colleagues suspected he was either an American or West German agent, and could not believe that he had made "a simple cock-up." In 2014, his wife claimed that Schabowski had been well aware of the possible consequences of what he said in the press conference.

There is still a bit of interpretation left. That it all was 'just a mistake' … hm. Well it's tempting to ascribe it to the power of 'one word', uninterrupted propaganda (West-German TV really seized the opportunity) or then just the mass human wave overcoming the armed and ready to shoot border guards? But it is quite clear that the 'East Germans brought down the wall', not Helmut Kohl or Ronald Reagan or Michail Gorbachev. And one East German communist man in particular had a most significant role in it.

This is the crucial video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kZiAxgYY75Y and his former superior evaluating that event years later: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VujRixEso5U

West German TV on that day, still emphasising that Schabowski mainly talked about permanent migration, although ordinary short term private travel is now even more confusingly mixed in:

20:00: Tagesschau vom 09. November 1989

Take note of the context: By then it was reported that 50000 GDR citizens were leaving daily and permanently via CSSR and Hungary, 'naturally' without any permits from the GDR government, across the iron curtain from other Warsaw Pact states. And that the West German minister of the interior issued a declaration informing GDR citizens about to leave or already arriving in the West that they would face for a long time personal living conditions in the West quite markedly below the living standards in the East that they were accustomed to.

The first East German TV news was broadcast 30 minutes after the end of the press briefing and just recounts the main points read out by Schabowski

19:30: Aktuelle Kamera vom 09. November 1989

The emphasis is still on "private travel, from now on, can be applied for"

And how the tone and content of West German news changed just within 2 hours later:

21:45: "ZDF heute-journal" vom 09. November 1989
22:30: Tagesthemen vom 09. November 1989

(3 main newscasts in one video)

That 22:30 news opened by declaring the wall as 'history', "gates wide open" telling only about the temporary travel regulations, for anyone willing to, and already showing West German officials expecting all those Easterners about to arrive in the West at borders in West Berlin. While their own reporters at two different border still cannot provide any pictures of that, as the border guards then still tried to stall and hold the line. Only occasionally were people let through with all of the first 'early adopters' of temporary travel receiving a stamp of 'permanently emigrated', although that quickly lost all meaning and was eventually abandoned.

This was strictly speaking "fake news". At that point in time things were still unclear and only very few managed to get through. As can be seen in the video, the news-people spoke of "masses" and were not able to show more than 5 people from West Berlin who re-told some hearsay.

19:00 Press briefing ends
19:30 West Berlin mayor expected such a move for mid-December but announces that West Berliners should prepare for what is to come "for tomorrow"
19:30 GDR public is informed of the text via own news broadcast (less than 100 people start testing the border)
20:00 Main West German news repeats the text as well
20:30 Without much pressure, border-guard and Stais Oberstleutnant Heinz Schäfer instructs his troops at the little known border crossing Waltersdorfer Chaussee/Rudower Chausee out of own initiative to disarm and open the gate to let everyone who might come through even without any passport controls (only few realised this option)

src: https://facettenneukoelln.wordpress.com/2016/10/07/mauerweg-waltersdorfer_chaussee-berlin-neukoelln/

[But Stasi documents speak of the first people arriving at that gate only at 23:00, being let out with permanent passport markings at 23:15]

20:47 East German Politbüro members leave their internal conference and get briefed about what happened "meanwhile", they knew nothing of all that and are confused
"meanwhile" more East Berliners started to move and make demands; faced with between 500–1000 citizens the Stasi decides to try a valve solution: stamp one after the other as excommunicated and let those through
21:00 Border guards raise "silent alarm" (somethings brewing at the control points)
22:00 late edition of East German TV tries to de-escalate and re-emphasises the "private travel after application for it"
22:45 West German TV declares wall as history
23:00 situation at border crossing gets tumultuos, thousands gather, and are still largely withheld
23:30 situation gets dangerous, a few people were allowed to go, inciting thousands more to come and increase pressure, valve solution abandoned
00:00 Soviet vice-ambassador Maximytschew decides to not inform Moscow in order to prevent any "knee-jerk reactions" after the wall has effectively been breached now
00:20 all 12.000 East German security institutions in Berlin get the order "increased combat readiness" and prepare covertly for action; further orders are not issued and in the course of events local commanders start take back that order
02:00 the state leadership announces that until 08:00 things are going to be as they are, but that it all shall end then again
– meanwhile West German media does nothing else than to report on the events unfolding
08:00 as announced GDR officials try to restart orderly border-regime and crossings. They fail. At the same time the party envisioned applications for travel permits also start to roll in en masse, binding security forces across the whole country

As an English transcript of the relevant part of that press conference seems not easy to locate on the net:

GS: So, we want through a series of circumstances, including the travel law, the chance of the sovereign decision of the citizen to travel wherever he wants. (Uh) We are of course (uh) concerned that the possibility of this travel law, - it is still not in force, it is a draft.

However, today, as far as I know (looks at these words consenting towards Labs and Banaschak), a decision has been made. A recommendation by the Politbüro has been taken up, that the former passus which used to be included should be removed from the draft and the modified travel law allowed to enter into force for perm… – as they say so beautifully or so unpleasantly - regulates the permanent departure, i.e. the leaving of the republic. Because we (uh) consider it to be an impossible situation that this movement takes place (uh) via a friendly state (uh), which is not easy for this state either. And that is why (uh) we have decided to make today (uh) a regulation which makes it possible (uh) for every citizen of the GDR to leave the country via border crossing points of the GDR (uh).

Question: When does that come into effect?

GS: (Scratches his head) So, comrades, I've been told about this here (sits his glasses on as he continues, leafs through his papers, pulls a paper), that such a message has already been (uh) spread today. It should actually be in your possession. So (reads very quickly from the sheet):

"Private trips abroad can be applied for without the existence of prerequisites – reasons for travel and family relationships. The permits are issued on short notice. The responsible departments of passport and registration of the VPKÄ - the Volkspolizeikreisämter (people's police district offices) – in the GDR are instructed to issue visas for permanent departure without delay, without having to meet any conditions for permanent departure. (Äh) Permanent departures can take place via all border crossing points of the GDR to the FRG. This means that the temporary granting of corresponding permits in GDR missions abroad or the permanent departure with the GDR identity card via third countries is no longer necessary."

(Looks up.) (Äh) I can't answer the passport question now (looks questioningly towards Labs and Banaschak). That is also a technical question. I don't know, the passports must be, … so that everyone is in possession of a passport, one would have to be issued first. But we wanted

Banaschak: interrupts Schabowski undecipherably, incomprehensibly

Question: When will that come into effect?

GS: (Scrolls through his papers.) To the best of my knowledge … that is immediately, immediately (scrolls further in his documents).

Question: (voices buzzing) You only said FRG, does that also apply to West Berlin?

GS: (Reads quickly, swallowing a few words:) 'Like the press department of the Ministry …, the Council of Ministers has decided that this transitional regulation will be put into effect by the People's Chamber until a corresponding legal regulation comes into force'.

Question: Does that also apply to Berlin-West?

GS: (He shrugs his shoulders, pulls the corners of his mouth downwards, looks into his papers.) So (pause), yes, but (read aloud): "The constant departure can take place over all border crossing points of the GDR to the FRG or to Berlin West."

Question: (Confusion of voices) Does this mean that from now on the citizens of the GDR… (Journalist introduces himself, phonetically:) Christoph Janowski. (newspaper and/or agency not understandable) … does that mean that from now on GDR citizens are not allowed to leave Czechoslovakia or Poland?

GS: Yeah, it doesn't say anything about that at all. Rather we hope that in this way (uh) this movement regulates itself in the sense we strive for it.

Question: (Confusion of voices, incomprehensible question).

GS: I have heard nothing to the contrary.

Question: (Confusion of voices, incomprehensible question).

GS: I have heard nothing to the contrary.

Question: (Confusion of voices, incomprehensible question).

GS: Yes, I did not hear anything to the contrary. I only express myself so cautiously, because now I am not, therefore, constantly up to date in this question, but shortly before I came over, I got this information pressed into my hand.

(Some journalists hurriedly left the room.)

Question: Mr. Schabowski, what will happen to the Berlin Wall now?

GS: I am reminded that it is 19.00 hrs. It is the last question, yes! Please understand that.

GS: What about the Berlin Wall? Information has already been given on this in connection with travel. (Uh) The question of travelling, (uh) the permeability of the Berlin Wall from our side, does not yet answer and exclusively the question of the meaning, that is, this, I'll say it this way, fortified state border of the GDR. (Uh)

We have always said that there are some other factors (uh) that need to be taken into account. And these relate to the complex of questions which Comrade Krenz raised in his presentation in the - with regard to relations between the GDR and the FRG, with regard to (er) the need to continue the peacekeeping process with new initiatives. And (uh) certainly the debate on this question (uh) can be positively influenced, if also the FRG and if the NATO decides on disarmament steps and asserts them, like or similar to the GDR this and other socialist states have already done with certain preliminary performances.
Many thanks!


It may be the case that the text quoted by OP is alluding to a still more nuanced detail. Schabowski was not a mid level bureaucrat!

As already noted, the intent of the short note was to announce merely that new emigration laws were to be applied to channel the emigrants over GDR borders again. That the compelled speech regulations in the GDR called this also 'travel out' gave the opportunity to insert other travel related regulations into the new text. And at that point a quite sub-altern functionary inserted three lines:

"Private travel to foreign countries can be applied for without any prerequisites (reasons for travel and family relationships). Permits are granted at short notice. Reasons for refusal will only be applied in exceptional cases."

Which were not anywhere on the agenda of what the leading Politbüro discussed beforehand, the state security council pre-formulated, but the sub-committee eventually agreed to being added to it. The final proposal is then read out in the Central Committee, under the preliminary yet also final title "Proposal for a decision on changing the situation of permanent departure of GDR citizens to Germany via the CSSR". No one objects. After a long series of discussions when they apparently themselves forgot what they really mean with 'travel' at any given time. (Among other evidence: The members of the Central Committee are on record from sitting the day to have been baffled by what happened, looking for scapegoats all around, only much later claiming that 'it was our intention all along'.)

So this small addendum gets into the text, which as a whole is still barred from announcement until November 10th, 0400. This news tidbit is what's on the little paper Schabowski receives via Krenz, all now informally referring to that paper as "new travel regulations" including the retention order to not release it until 0400.

The name of this mid-level functionary was Gerhard Lauter. From 1 July 1989 until reunification, he was head of the passport and registration department at the Ministry of the Interior of the GDR. After coming back from a theatre visit at 2200 on the night of November 9, he was informed of the early release and spent the rest of the night in crisis management at his post.

Schabowksi's paper showing what he planned to talk about at the press briefing

enter image description here Src: Dokument Original "Schabowski-Zettel"

And the text to be released the next day, given by Krenz to Schabowski with allegedly the words "why not read this out tonight?" (according to Schabowski):

enter image description here (online version [here], complete set of decision plus press release for November 10th as PDF24)

–– Source: Hans-Hermann Hertle: "Chronik des Mauerfalls. Die dramatischen Ereignisse um den 9. November 1989", Ch. Links: Nerlin, 112009.

In translation:

until today, Thursday 9 November 1989, 18.00 hours to confirm the accuracy of this information by circular letter.

Confidential classified information b2-937/89

Title of the template: Temporary transitional regime for travel and permanent departure from the GDR

Submitter of the template: Chairman of the Council of Ministers

signed Willi Stoph

Berlin, 9 November 1989

proposed resolution

The attached Decision on the temporary and transitional arrangements for travel and permanent departure from the GDR is hereby confirmed.

Proposal for a decision

To change the situation of permanent departure of GDR citizens to the FRG via the CSSR is established:

  1. The decree of 30 November 1988 on travel abroad by citizens of the GDR (GBl. I No. 25 p. 271) is no longer applicable until the new travel law comes into force.

  2. With immediate effect, the following temporary transitional arrangements for travel and permanent departures from the GDR to other countries will come into force:

    -2. a) Private travel to foreign countries can be applied for without the existence of prerequisites (reasons for travel and family relationships). Permits are granted at short notice. Reasons for refusal are only applied in exceptional cases.

    -2. b) The competent passport and registration departments of the VPKÄ in the GDR are instructed to issue visas for permanent departure without delay, without the need for any conditions for permanent departure. As before, applications for permanent departure can also be submitted to the Internal Affairs departments.

    -2. c) Permanent departures can be made via all border crossing points of the GDR to the FRG or to Berlin (West).

    -2. d)This means that the temporary granting of corresponding permits in GDR missions abroad or the permanent departure with the GDR identity card via third countries is no longer necessary.

The attached press release on the temporary transitional arrangements will be published on 10 November 1989.

Responsible: Government spokesman at the GDR Council of Ministers

The items 2 & 2a is the trojan horse here, smuggled in by primarily 4 sub-committee members, 2 from minister of the interior, 2 from the minister of state security, under Lauter. The heading and the entire rest of the paper only talk about permanent emigration. But 2 ("travel & out travel") and 2a ("Private travel") made this sandwich so juicy.

Main events in a timeline in English: Chronik der Mauer

Summary

Going back to the exact quoted claim in question: Who exactly "declared the wall to be open" may remain a matter of perspective:

  1. The basic words leading to the events were formulated as a proposal around midday by four midl-level officers in a subcommittee, intent to come into effect after approval from high-up, orderly the next day
  2. Chairman Krenz reads the text out to the Politbüro and after no objections gives the proposal text to Schabowksi, apparently without clear instructions, shortly before press briefing
  3. Inner Circle member Schabowksi reads out the proposal text at press briefing, while Politbüro still in session, answers questions about the confusing text with ever more confusing details, says the famous "immediately, without delay" and hints at 'wall not really making sense anymore'
  4. uniformed but uninformed local border guards make localised decisions regarding permeability ad hoc and under pressure, from "shall not pass", to "shall pass with pass stamped", to "shall pass, who cares"
  5. but the last decision taken only after West German TV moderator "declares gates wide open", with the precise words, before the fact
  6. border guards give in into pressure from the masses, security forces and military ordered to prepare then to stand down, even as masses pour in all directions and some even start squatting on the wall

! Stages that night:

! enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here

! Next day: enter image description here
! symbolic picture of Krenz from Nov 9

  • 3
    So, reading carefully, it seems "mid-level" in the Q isn't correct. The spokesman, Schabowski was a powerful, possibly the #2, politburo member. The note-writer, Krenz, was the new leader. Even Lauter, who wrote part of the note, was a boss, authorized to do that. The confusion was among high-level leadership. And even if there hadn't been mistakes or confusion, the intent was to allow anyone to defect -- walk through the Berlin Wall as long as they signed paperwork promising not to return. – Owen Reynolds Nov 3 at 23:58
  • @OwenReynolds As I wrote, GS was rather high-up, just at best informally authorised for the declaration. Krenz the leader was not the note-writer, more a jolly postillon in this case. But then within party and state-hierarchy Lauter was a mid-level 'boss' having strict orders, interpreted them loosely and sneakily, and wrote something well meant but not well done (from SED perspective). Hi-level goal was indeed to release pressure in 2 ways: defectors out now, while also promising communist westward travel slow and later. Both would have brought down 'fortifications' eventually anyway. – LаngLаngС Nov 4 at 11:19
  • 3
    +1 for a bachelor thesis on the topic. :) Great answer! – fgysin reinstate Monica Nov 6 at 15:57
8

Of course not. That happened, but it wasn't the reason.

"Burning down the Haus" (a history of the East German Punk movement) describes how over years, not weeks, there were youth protests, encouragement from the church, and hard-labour sentences that only encouraged more Punks. The Stasi had cycles of cracking down on the worst trouble-makers, then when that didn't work, loosening up the rules. And then regular non-punk people knew about Solidarity in Poland, and how much nicer things were in West Germany. There was smuggling.

The night the wall fell, an East German band ("Feeling B"?) was playing a show in West Germany. A big group of East German wall-crossers heard about it and wandered in. Everyone was surprised. After the show, the band casually asked them why so many, and how they got here. That was the state of the Berlin Wall at the time: in February of 1989 a citizen trying to cross the border was still shot dead.

That particular crossing got a paragraph or two in the book. But at the time no one found it odd that one spot decided it was easier to just wave everyone through, and the rest followed suit.

On to opinion: the guard's mistake may have been a mistake, but it only could have happened given the climate. A few days earlier a crowd wouldn't have risked a scene near the wall, and a guard wouldn't have been confused about how to handle it. Later on, emphasizing how it was a "mistake" let everyone save face.

And when they turned up for the gig that cold November night, they were already drunk. They kept drinking as the other bands played, with Feeling B playing their set just before die Anderen went on. Unlike back in May, this time the venue was full, and as die Anderen played the crowd seemed to swell further.

The band spotted a lot of familiar faces in the audience, but that wasn’t unusual. They always ran into a lot of people they knew in West Berlin—people who had fled recently through Hungary or people who had left or been expatriated over the years. But as die Anderen ripped through their set, people started holding up East German ID papers and waving them in the air. Strange.

Still, drunk themselves, the band members figured the people in the crowd were probably drunk, too—shit, maybe they were making fun of the band or something.

They continued to play.

More familiar faces. The British musician PJ Harvey was at the show—along with her mom. Harvey was still practically a teenager, but the band she was in at the time, Automatic Dlamini, had played in East Berlin over the summer and she’d gotten to know die Anderen.

So many familiar faces.

And the ID papers waving in the air.

More and more East German ID papers held aloft.

What the fuck was going on?

Finally, as die Anderen were playing their final song of the night, Dafty spotted another familiar face. And this wasn’t someone who had fled the country. He had seen this person earlier that day, back in East Berlin. It began to dawn on him . . . but wait, that’s impossible! He just couldn’t wrap his hazy head around what was happening. If these people were here . . . in West Berlin . . . 

I must be really drunk.

Of course everyone already had a sense that something big was on the verge of happening. Things had already taken place in the last few weeks and months they thought they’d never see. Honecker had stepped down. Tens of thousands had taken to the streets in Leipzig and Berlin, half a million had filled Alexanderplatz just a few days ago. But still. This . . . this would mean . . . 

When the band came offstage, they were mobbed by friends from East Berlin, all talking at once, and it was true, it was true: the checkpoints were open.

The Berlin Wall had fallen.

As news spread inside the club, the bar passed out free beer. Unbeknownst to the people at the concert in Pike Club, East German government spokesman and Politburo member Günter Schabowski had announced an immediate end to travel restrictions at a press conference earlier that evening. Though Schabowski had told the mayor of West Berlin ten days prior that travel restrictions would be liberalized, and West Berlin had prepared its public transport system for that eventuality, it seemed as if East Berlin had not prepared for the policy change. After the press conference ran live on Eastern TV and the news was broadcast and re-broadcast on West Berlin TV and radio, East Berliners had gathered at some checkpoints, demanding to be let through. Guards at the checkpoints had received no specific orders, however, and struggled to reach superiors at night; as the crowds began to build, the guards just had to wing it and decide on an individual basis how best to deal with the situation. A little-known checkpoint between Waltersdorfer Chausee in the East and Rudow in the West opened first, at around 8:30 p.m. Then, faced with a huge crowd of perhaps tens of thousands, having themselves seen the news conference, and unwilling to open fire to maintain control, the guards at Bornholmer Strasse checkpoint opened their gates at around 11:30 p.m. Word spread, and other checkpoints, including Checkpoint Charlie, soon followed suit. A carload of the bands’ friends had driven through the Invalidenstrasse checkpoint in their old Volga and then found their way to Kreuzberg and Pike Club, where they knew Feeling B and die Anderen were playing. Despite the excitement, the members of Feeling B just wanted to go home. But the scene at the checkpoints was so crazy, they couldn’t get back across. In the end one of their friends bought a bottle of whisky and they, too, joined the party.

The members of die Anderen walked over to the checkpoint at Heinrich-Heine-Strasse and stood there watching their countrymen flood through. They rapped on the tops of Trabants, Easterners greeting other Easterners as they entered the West.

People chanted and sang. It was a huge street festival in the middle of the night.

The Berlin Wall had fallen.

Toster and Dafty and the rest of the band wandered the streets of West Berlin all night with friends, smoking dope and drinking what seemed like a hundred beers.

The band also made a decision right there and then: die Anderen broke up. The Wall was done and so was the band.

For the punks of East Berlin it was simple: mission accomplished.

Or was it?

  • It looks like you mean "Feeling B" & "Die Anderen" (p330?). Please quote the relevant passage. (That shows a few interesting details before and prior, but I think you paraphrase it misleadingly. That night was still pivotal. The book too much biased for punk prespective) Bands as cultural ambassadors were granted travel visas under blockhead communism, being eg in the West in May '89, way before anything got moving. Most familiar faces they saw that night were from emigres long gone or recent refugees via Hungary… ordinary 'wall-climbers' were unkonwn then. – LаngLаngС Nov 2 at 9:54
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    @LangLangC Thanks. That quote is much better than I remember (the PJ Harvey, wow). If I knew it was available online I've not have attempted a summary. The book goes into how "blockhead communism" required East German bands have a license to perform in public, but at the same time - mentioned in that quote - rock bands were allowed to cross the dreaded Berlin wall both ways. – Owen Reynolds Nov 2 at 14:55
  • That rock bands had such permits, is not news. But that such often prohibited from performing at all in public punk bands also had such was indeed news to many. I knew Karel Gott, "the first singing communist", or City and Karat going West and then happily back again. But Schleimkeim, Defloration, Fuckin Faces might have had such a permit? That would indeed invite some serious questioning in front of a bright lamp zur Klärung eines Sachverhalts. I knew only of unification objectors Feeling B, Tina Has Never Had A Teddybear was totally lost on me. – LаngLаngС Nov 2 at 15:18
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    Ah, sorry. No permits for punk bands -- didn't mean to imply that. Feeling B was one of the first punk-ish bands to clean up, apply for a "rating" to play in bars and such, and surprisingly receive one. Possibly as a result of liberalization. At the same same, up until the end, Punk bands were being raiding and jailed for unpatriotic song lyrics, and having (illegal) performances shut down where possible (still from "Burning down the Haus".) – Owen Reynolds Nov 2 at 16:49
  • Well, rumour goes that Aljoscha's step daddy who was a higher up party functionary, protected the entire band somewhat. Plus Rompe's convoluted citizenship, born in Berlin, then becoming formally Swiss in 1980, but always staying in the GDR (?) is already strange enough… – LаngLаngС Nov 2 at 16:56

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