Excerpts from "the first rough draft of history" as reported in The Washington Post on this date in the 20th century.
The monolith that had been the Soviet empire had been cracking for months, and East Germans by the hundreds of thousands had been fleeing their country through Hungary and Czechoslovakia. But the fall of the Berlin Wall -- announced as a mumbled aside at the very end of a news conference -- came as a shock to Germans on both sides of the divide. An excerpt from The Post of Nov. 10, 1989:
Communist East Germany today opened its borders to the West, including the Berlin Wall, announcing that its citizens could travel or emigrate freely, in the most stunning step since World War II toward ending the East-West division of Europe.
Confronted by a mounting political crisis that a top East German official said has placed the ruling Communist Party's very existence at stake, the government said authorities had been instructed to grant permission without delay for people to journey abroad or leave the country.
"Today, the decision was taken that makes it possible for all citizens to leave the country through East German border crossing points," media chief Guenter Schabowski told a news conference shortly before 7 p.m. (1 p.m. EST).
As word spread, hundreds of jubilant East Berliners poured into West Berlin on their first visits ever to the western half of the city, divided for 28 years by the 13-foot-high concrete wall that is the best-known landmark along the Iron Curtain.
On the western side, large crowds gathered at the wall, passing champagne bottles around to joyful fellow Berliners, whose city has been the site of tense confrontations between Soviet and American troops and life-and-death scenes of desperate East Germans trying to flee across the heavily fortified wall.
In an extraordinary sight near the Brandenburg Gate along the city's dividing line, scores of young West and East Germans climbed to the top of the wall to greet each other and celebrate. Some used small hammers and chisels to chip away at the wall.
Fireworks exploded over the Kurfuerstendamm, West Berlin's main boulevard, in the impromptu street festival that lasted into the early hours of the morning.
"We woke up the children when we heard the radio, and brought them over for this historic day," East German Joachim Lucchesi, 41, said as he strolled with his wife and two sons by rows of cars continuously honking their horns.
In Poland, West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl said he might have to break off his visit to that country because "developments [in East Germany] are now unforseeable."
The East German action was hailed in the West as a historic victory for freedom. President Bush called the decision a "dramatic happening for East Germany and, of course, for freedom."
This series is now in a book that can be purchased online at www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/national/2000/collectors.htm