Robert-Havemann-Gesellschaft/Frank Ebert

GDR Council of Ministers Press Office

Hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated in favour of democratic change in East Germany in 1989, with tens of thousands leaving the country. Freedom of travel was one of the key demands. The East Germans had been locked inside their own country since the Berlin Wall was built in 1961. In November 1989 the communist leaders of the ruling Socialist Unity Party were forced to acknowledge that the situation had become unsustainable. 

The famous press conference preceding the fall of the Wall began in the late afternoon of 9 November 1989 at Mohrenstraße 36/37. The party leaders intended to announce a new travel law to stem the huge flow of escapes and protests. The government representative Günter Schabowski informed the international media rather casually of this new travel ruling. The press conference was broadcast live on GDR television, and an hour later West German television reported on the evening news: “GDR opens border.” 

Having heard this, East Berliners began gathering at the inner-city crossing points on the Berlin Wall. The crowds grew ever larger. They pressured the surprised border guards to grant the newly announced travel opportunities immediately, forcing the Wall open that same night. The first crossing point to open was at Bornholmer Straße, and by midnight all the others had been opened as well. After 28 years, the borders dividing Berlin, Germany and Europe had been overcome.

Politburo member Günter Schabowski (2nd right on the podium) announcing a new travel ruling on 9 November 1989.
Quelle: Bundesarchiv/183-1989-1109-030/Thomas Lehmann
West German television reported on the 8 o’clock news: “GDR opens border.” East Berliners flooded to the crossing points along the Wall and demanded they be opened immediately.
Quelle: ARD/Tagesschau
Bornholmer Straße crossing point on the evening of 9 November 1989: the barrier was pushed aside, all checks were suspended.
Quelle: Andreas Schoelzel
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