The Washington Post
Navigation Bar
Navigation Bar

Related Items
Time Line
  • Balkans
  • Croatia
  • Kosovo

    Balkans Report

  •   100,000 Flood W. Berlin to Test New Freedom

    By Robert J. McCartney
    Washington Post Foreign Service
    Saturday, November 11, 1989; Page A01

    WEST BERLIN, NOV. 10 -- About 100,000 East Germans swarmed into West Berlin today to celebrate their newly granted freedom to travel, as the East German government punched new holes in the Berlin Wall and its other border to the West and proclaimed that Thursday's opening of the country's frontiers would be permanent.

    The overwhelming majority of those who came to the Western half of this divided city today returned home after their visits. Many said the government's historic decision would go a long way to persuade people that the government is serious about reforms, and thus to slow this year's mass emigration to West Germany, which has already reached more than 225,000 people.

    West German border officials estimated that only a small fraction of those who crossed into West Berlin today planned to stay. Thousands more crossed into the West elsewhere along the jagged 860-mile border between the two German states, but there were no estimates of how many stayed.

    "We just want the experience that we can go and come back," architect Johannes Defer, 33, said as he waited in a line four blocks long to pass through Berlin's Checkpoint Charlie border crossing this afternoon. He and a friend, Elfie Nitzold, 27, drove more than two hours from Dresden this morning just to visit West Berlin for the first time.

    If travel becomes routine, Nitzold said, then East Germans can say with pride, "This is our homeland," and then "people will be willing to stay here."

    On the Western side of the city's most famous border crossing, scores of West Berliners cheered and pounded on automobiles of each East German car that passed through. Hundreds of West Berliners took turns standing on top of the wall at the Brandenburg Gate in the historic center of the city, where they occasionally taunted a row of border guards who stood directly below them on the Eastern side.

    East Germany's top leader, Egon Krenz, acknowledged indirectly that his government had failed to learn a big lesson. "We were often told: If people can travel out, then they will stay here. We are practicing this now," Krenz told thousands of Communist Party members at an open-air meeting in downtown East Berlin. This step is part of "a great lesson, which we will not forget."

    At the end of the meeting, East Germany's Communist leadership unveiled a package of proposed reforms that include free elections, a free press, independent trade unions, freedom of association and assembly, economic changes and parliamentary control over the armed forces. The outline of recommended changes added up to a blueprint for the political and economic overhaul of the East German system. {Story, Page A26.}

    As Germans began pondering the long-term consequences of Thursday's surprise opening of the borders, West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl broke away from a trip to Poland to fly to West Berlin and broach the question of reunification by proclaiming that Germans from East and West are one nation sharing a common future.

    "We are and will remain one nation, and we belong together. . . . Step by step, we must find the way to our common future," Kohl told a rally of 20,000 at West Berlin's City Hall.

    At the same time, West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher sought to mollify those Europeans wary of a German reunification. "No danger has ever emanated from a free and democratic Germany," he told the crowd. "No one need be afraid when the doors between East and West open. We are telling all our neighbors in East and West: We are a Western democracy."

    In dramatic evidence of East Germay's commitment to keep the wall open, a bulldozer began punching a hole through the concrete barrier at Eberswalder Street to start construction of one of four new crossing points that Interior Minister Friedrich Dickel pledged to create in coming days. The city currently has eight crossing points.

    East Germany plans to permit cross-border travel on a second subway line, in addition to the one where such trips already take place, and, for the first time, on several city bus routes, Dickel said in an interview with East German television.

    Dickel also said that a proposed new travel law would incorporate the open border policy already announced as a temporary measure Thursday. He emphasized that the policy "will last," and added, "The government of East Germany stands by its word."

    It appeared likely, however, that travel would become somewhat more restricted than it has been in the heady first 24 hours of the new policy.

    Technically, East Germans were required to obtain police permits to make trips across the wall today. But border guards, overwhelmed by the huge numbers of people and lines of cars up to three miles long that gathered at checkpoints, suspended the rules and simply stamped people's personal identity documents as they went through. All East Germans carry such documents, and many waved them in the air to display the pink-and-green stamp as they entered the once-forbidden Western half of the city.

    Many East German border guards abandoned their usually stern demeanor and chatted with throngs of their countrymen filing through border control points. Some guards helped East Berliners clamber over the wall to avoid congested crossing points.

    East Germans who came to the West today visited the city's tourist attractions, gaped at shop windows, marveled at well-stocked grocery stores and celebrated reunions with friends and relatives whom they had not seen in years.

    "I'm a Berliner. I just want to look around," Renate, a 52-year-old media institute employee, said.

    Like many, she went first to a bank to collect the $54 in "welcome money" that the West German government grants to East German visitors on their first trip to the West. With it, she bought some coffee and was holding onto the rest while deciding how to spend it later.

    A 35-year-old office clerk named Marlene wept on seeing her two sisters for the first time since she moved to West Berlin from East Berlin in 1986. She could not visit East Berlin, for fear of being imprisoned for having left East Germany illegally.

    "I shrieked and fell into their arms, both times. Then we cried," she said after her sisters appeared unexpectedly on the doorstep of her West Berlin apartment within a half-hour of each other this afternoon.

    After posing for snapshots in front of the Chinese-style entrance of West Berlin's famous zoo, sister Rose-Marie, 37, said she had been stunned by her first glimpse of West Berlin. "It's overwhelming. There's so much life, and it all is so colorful. On our side, the city is so dead and quiet," she said.

    All the visitors agreed that the opening of the borders was a major plus for the government.

    "This is the first visible step {toward reform.} If there are more like this, the government will win the trust of the people," a Humboldt University student named Bertram said.

    "When people are allowed to leave and come back, they'll come back," an elderly man said.

    Baerbel Bohley, a prominent leader of the nation's largest pro-reform group, New Forum, agreed. "I certainly think this was the only step that was convincing enough to show that changes are supposed to be happening here," she told a West Berlin television station.

    But many visitors also said that the authorities had acted only because of overwhelming pressure from the flow of emigrants via Czechoslovakia and Hungary, and the huge demonstrations for democratic reform that have swept the country in the past month.

    Asked who was to thank for the change, many East Berliners said, simply, "ourselves." Many added that the government still had to grant free elections and improve the country's economic performance if it wishes to halt the exodus.

    These themes were picked up at the rally in West Berlin, where Genscher, former chancellor Willy Brandt and West Berlin Mayor Walter Momper joined Kohl in addressing the crowd.

    The rally was held at John F. Kennedy Square, where the U.S. president declared his solidarity with the people of the city after the wall went up in his celebrated statement, "Ich bin ein Berliner."

    Brandt, who was West Berlin's mayor when the wall went up, said, "Nothing will be the same again. The winds of change blowing through Europe have not avoided East Germany."


    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

    Back to the top

    Navigation Bar
    Navigation Bar