Escape via Prague

During the summer holidays of 1989, several hundred East Germans had sought refuge in the West German embassy in Prague. It was easy enough to travel to neighbouring communist Czechoslovakia and continue on to Hungary. When the checks on the Czechoslovak-Hungarian border were tightened, the numbers occupying the embassy in Prague swelled to several thousand.

Numerous diplomatic negotiations finally brought about a compromise; the refugees were allowed to emigrate to West Germany. They had to travel via East German territory, however, to be officially expelled from the country. They were taken to the Federal Republic on special trains during the night of 30 September. The moment the pictures of the cheering refugees were aired around the world, thousands more sought refuge in the West German diplomatic mission in Prague, making their way to the West in the same way over the following days.

On 3 October 1989, the GDR leadership then closed the border to Czechoslovakia, holding the East Germans captive in their own country. Yet the critical voices in the population were growing ever louder, calling for public reforms, democratic rights and freedom.

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