Former East German Politburo member Guenter Schabowski in 2004. (Sven Kaestner/AP)

Günter Schabowski, a senior East German official whose cryptic announcement that the communist country was opening its fortified border precipitated the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, died Nov. 1 in a Berlin nursing home. He was 86.

His widow, Irina Schabowski, confirmed his death to the German news agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur.

Mr. Schabowski, who was a spokesman for East Germany’s ruling Politburo, delivered his halting words at the conclusion of a plodding evening news conference on Nov. 9, 1989. He offhandedly said East Germany was lifting restrictions on travel across its border with West Germany.

Pressed on when the headline-making regulation would take effect, Mr. Schabowksi looked down at his notes and stammered: “As far as I know, this enters into force . . . this is immediately, without delay.”

The decision to open the border put an end to Berlin’s 28 years of division by the wall.

Guenter Schabowski, who announced the opening of the Berlin Wall, in 1989. (DPA/AFP/Getty Images)

Soon after Mr. Schabowski spoke, Western media reported that East Germany was opening its borders, and East Berliners were jamming the first crossing. Border guards had received no orders to let anyone across, but they gave up trying to hold back the crowds.

East German leader Egon Krenz later insisted that he told Mr. Schabowski to tell reporters to withhold reports about the new travel regulation until 4 a.m. the next day, so citizens could line up properly to get exit visas.

Mr. Schabowski, a trained journalist, said he never heard Krenz say that and it would have been unrealistic anyway.

“It was one of many foul-ups in those days,” he said. “We were acting under the pressure of events. I’m just happy that it went off without bloodshed.”

At the time, East German leaders saw opening the Berlin Wall as a relief valve amid huge pro-democracy protests and a flight of citizens to the West via other countries. The wall’s opening set in motion a series of events that led to German reunification on Oct. 3, 1990.

Günter Schabowski was born Jan. 4, 1929, in Anklam, Germany. He rose through the ranks of East Germany’s media after World War II and became the chief editor of Neues Deutschland, the main Communist Party-controlled newspaper, in 1978. He became a member of the Politburo in 1984.

In October 1989, Mr. Schabowski, then the Communist Party chief in East Berlin, became the first Politburo member to talk to opposition leaders. In another turnaround for East Germany, he voiced support for “approved and well-ordered” demonstrations.

Amid mounting pressure from the emboldened pro-democracy movement, he resigned along with the rest of the Politburo weeks after the Berlin Wall fell.

Mr. Schabowski later became one of the most senior East German leaders to be convicted of manslaughter and jailed for the shooting deaths of East Germans trying to flee to the West.

He served 9 1/2 months of a three-year sentence before being pardoned by Berlin’s mayor in 2000. Mr. Schabowski turned firmly against communism, publicly backing Germany’s main conservative party in a 2001 Berlin election.

— Associated Press