Protest against Egon Krenz being installed as chairman of the State Council outside the State Council building in East Berlin, 24 October 1989.
Source: picture-alliance/dpa/Wolfgang Kumm

Escape route via Hungary

East Germans who wanted to emigrate used every possible route to get out of the GDR and into West Germany. The pictures of the fences between Hungary and Austria being cut went around the world in May 1989, prompting thousands of East Germans to make their way to Hungary. Many sought refuge in the West German embassy in Budapest, while others waited near the border for an opportunity to escape. They were not legally permitted to cross the border, and the Hungarian police stopped many of them from escaping.

Hungary began dismantling the installations on the border to Austria on 2 May 1989.
Source: AP-Photo/Kronen Zeitung/Gino Molin
Summer 1989: as the West German embassy became overcrowded, a reception camp was set up in a park in the Zugliget area of Budapest.
Source: picture-alliance/ZB/Ulrich Haessler
During the “Pan-European Picnic” near Sopron (Hungary) on 19 August 1989, several hundred East Germans escaped to Austria through a section of the border fence that had been left open. The Hungarian border guards made no attempt to stop them.
Source: picture-alliance/dpa/Votava
In the summer months, many East Germans tried to escape via Hungary to Austria by crossing the green line. The border was still guarded, but individuals did manage to get across on numerous occasions, like this small group in August 1989.
Source: Dirk Eisermann/Hamburg
The 39-year-old canteen manager Gerhard Meyer and his family were the first to reach the checkpoint in Passau (Bavaria) at 3 am on 11 September 1989.
Source: picture-alliance/dpa/Karl Staedele

More than six hundred people used the "Pan-European Picnic" on 19 August 1989 as a chance to cross the nearby border fence. Yet the route to the West via Hungary was still dangerous; a few days later, border soldiers shot and killed a young East German man in a scuffle.

Nevertheless, the constant stream of refugees did not let up. Thousands camped out on the grounds of the overcrowded embassy, in their cars and at hastily established reception centres. Finally, on 11 September, the Hungarian government announced the full opening of the border to Austria. Over the next few days, fourteen thousand East Germans left Hungary for West Germany. Their numbers reached more than fifty thousand by the time the Berlin Wall fell.

Poster for the Pan-European Picnic. The European parliamentarian Otto von Habsburg and the Hungarian reform politician and minister of state Imre Pozsgay were the patrons of this Hungarian-Austrian event. The organisers distributed Hungarian and German versions of the flyer.
Source: Dirk Eisermann/Hamburg
Press release from the East German news agency ADN in the SED party newspaper Neues Deutschland, 11 September 1989.
Source: Neues Deutschland, 11.9.1989
In September the newspaper Neues Deutschland published an absurd report headed “Menthol Cigarette Kidnapping”, describing the wave of escapes as human trafficking organised by the West. The newspaper apologised for this lie on 3 November.
Source: Neues Deutschland, 21.9.1989
In September the newspaper Neues Deutschland published an absurd report headed “Menthol Cigarette Kidnapping”, describing the wave of escapes as human trafficking organised by the West. The newspaper apologised for this lie on 3 November.
Source: Neues Deutschland, 21.9.1989
The opposition Berlin Environmental Library commented on the mass escapes in September 1989, describing them as a “revolutionary situation”. This article from the library’s newsletter Umweltblätter was also distributed as a flyer.
Source: Robert-Havemann-Gesellschaft
On arrival from Hungary, East German refugees had their documents stamped by the Republic of Austria - and were given a map of Vienna to help them find their way in the new world.
Source: Privatarchiv
The Kliewer familie escaped from the GDR in the summer of 1989. Asked to draw what he liked best in his holidays, their seven-year-old son Mario drew this picture at his new school in West Germany.
Source: Ute und Hartmut Kliewer
An East German family smuggled almost 19,000 Forints (Hungarian currency) across the border inside this teddy bear, as they were only allowed to exchange 2,650 Forints per year.
Source: Robert-Havemann-Gesellschaft/Frank Ebert
zum Seitenanfang