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.

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.

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