The wall of shame is how many people know it. As if it were not enough after the world basically was absorbed by WWII, Germany and its capital city, were divided by a wall.
A wall that put on display the differences amongst the allies, the foursome that won the war and freed the world from the National Socialist dictatorship that was bringing down all types of people.
Although the entire country got divided in two: GDR (the German Democratic Republic; socialist, East Berlin) and the FRG (the Federal Republic of Germany; capitalist, West Berlin) the German capital, the capital of the defeated country undoubtedly suffered one of the hardest separations.
Not only because it was divided amongst the victorious but because this city had a physical boundary.
The nightmare began on August 13th, 1961, a date on which the GDR government demanded to close borders with West Berlin. To make things even worst, the wall was constructed overnight.
Laura Viera A: Luis Eduardo, do you have friends who lived through that separation with their families?
Luis Eduardo Solano: Yes, I still keep in touch with some of them. They say that they went to study that day and when they wanted to return to their homes, they could not do so because of the wall. After a few years, when the situation “normalized” a little, they could go to visit their parents for a few hours, but then they always had to return to West Berlin.
A few days after that, on August 22nd, the GDR’s Interior Minister organized seven crossing points for cars and one for trains that inhabitants from West Berlin and the FRG could use.
This meant that it was prohibited to cross the border for citizens on both sides. In order to do so, it was necessary for the same city, to have proper documentation and to go to one of the many crossing points.
Laura Viera A: How was the process of crossing the border for you?
Luis Eduardo Solano: Well, I came as a student on an exchange program between the University of Tunja and the Technical University of Berlin, so I had a permit that allowed me to cross to the eastern side without any problem. However, I must say that they looked at you a lot, they checked your documents excessively, a thousand questions, the GDR guards were aggressive, they tried to take advantage of you, it was very stressful to cross.
It took them 30 years
Finally, 30 years after, the people got what they wanted: freedom within their own country. On the night of November 9th, 1989, a little before 7 pm Günter Schabowski, who was the General Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party, announced during a press conference a new set of regulations in which East Germans would be allowed to cross the border with proper permission.
This turned out to be one of the biggest bureaucratic mistakes in history. People could not stand it anymore. There was too much repression.
Almost three decades of torn-up families. As it was to be expected, people demanded a change and it was done in a persistent manner, refusing to give an inch but always doing so peacefully.
On November 6th a law project about the traffic on the border was presented. The goal was to diminish the exodus into Czechoslovakia.
I did not give birth to my children so that they wouldn’t know freedom, trapped and without options.
But this law was not enough. During the demonstrations in Leipzig and Berlin, it became evident that the people were not satisfied with the new regulations.
The news spread like wildfire
These regulations were revised on November 9th and included a visitation change. Theoretically, in the future, people would have special border crossing conditions and a Visa for private travels.
What happened during the press conference is as follows: Schabowski (General Secretary of the SED) announced before the time the new regulations. At that exact moment, there were some communication issues and he explained to the journalist that it was possible to travel „without any special conditions, the motive for the trip or family ties“.
Furthermore, he assured that the regulations would come into effect immediately “As far as I know–effective immediately, without delay“. Schabowski’s declaration was, what the first German News channel called the most important news of the day under “The GDR opens its borders”.
Laura Viera A: What exactly happened?
Luis Eduardo Solano: As we have discussed, it was a human error. Günter Schabowski could not find an answer to the journalist’s question during the press conference. At that moment, he answered that as far as he understood this decree was effective immediately. And, the rest is history. Within a few minutes, everyone had heard the news and began to arrive at different points along the wall.
As a result, the news spread like wildfire. As the hours went by, thousands of East Berliners began proceeding to the six border crossings along the Berlin Wall. Nobody was expecting this, after all, the statement was a mistake, a misunderstanding.
Obviously, the border guards did not understand what was going on, the situation was at best unclear. As the night progressed, people wanted to cross to the other side of the 3.6 meters high wall, with 41 miles of barbed wire fencing that divided Berlin, Germany, and the world.
The crowds vastly outnumbered the border guards, no one was willing to order deadly force. Finally, at 11:30 pm, the Stasi officer Herald Jäger decided to open the gates and allow people into West Berlin.
“We were at a birthday party and after a while, they told us that the wall fell down. For us the decision was simple: we would celebrate on the streets. We went to the nearest border crossing point and we crossed it. The idea was to go to Alexanderplatz, but halfway there we met someone from the other side of the wall and we went to their house and continued to party there”, says Andreas with a chocked voice.
At the other side of the crossing border, points were multitudinous. Around 11:30 pm the crowd was so huge that the responsible for border control, unaware of official instructions, decided to open the gates. “It is a day I will never forget. It changed my life” says Katerina.
What happened next was simply amazing, around 20. 000 people crossed over the wall in the Bösebrücke bridge. The remaining border controls opened during the night.
Laura Viera A: Where were you when the wall fell?
Luis Eduardo Solano: At that time I was working in a hamburger restaurant, it was a student job. When I was returning home and I was in the subway I began to realize that there was something different in the environment. At the time I didn’t know what was going on and when I got to my girlfriend’s house she told me what was going on and we went out to xxxx. That place was already full of people, a lot of people. Then we went to another part of the wall. There was no one from the western side, very few from the eastern side but slowly they started to arrive.
Laura Viera A: And what happened next?
Luis Eduardo Solano: Well, at that moment while everyone wanted to enter the western side I wanted to see the eastern side. I entered through a corner, I was going against the flow of people. At one point I realized that I was surrounded by a lot of young people and the plan was to go to the Brandenburg Gate and after a while, they started to say that we should be careful because they were shooting. I made a decision, I didn’t know what was going to happen and I didn’t want my physical integrity or my residence permit to be affected.
Due to the peaceful revolution in the Federal Republic of Germany and the many changes in Europe, the Berlin Wall fell that night. That night none of the 31 border controls, the 640 trained dogs, or the 1.400 soldiers stopped the crowd that wanted their freedom.
During the following days, the entire city was immersed in several moments of joy. There was a party-like environment floating in the air. “It was a collectible happiness, our hearts were raising.”, remembers Andreas.
In the course of the following days, the border opened all around the city, on December 22nd the border control at Brandenburger Tor was lifted. The demolition of the wall that cut the city in half took place between June and November 1990.
Its memory is alive
Today, whoever is interested may follow more than 20 kilometers of the former course of the Berlin Wall that is marked by a doubled row of paving stones. Without a doubt, Bernauer Straße 111 is the best place to see and understand what the Berlin Wall used to look like; the width of the bordering strip and the construction of the many frontier posts.
Even though the Berlin Wall disappeared its memory is alive. Many are shocked about the fact that there are so few remains, there are actually few sections and some watchtowers still exist at Postdamer Platz, Bernauer Straße, or East Side Gallery.
It was inhumane to “lock us down” like that – Andreas
Unquestionably, the remains of the border crossing points have lost all their horror and terror overtone. One of them and perhaps one of the most recognized is Check Point Charlie.
In a very German style, historical memory is a subject that they manage perfectly. They are aware of the gruesomeness the National Socialists caused, the suffering they put their own people through, the repression, frustration, and division that resulted from the Wall. Because of this, the places commemorating those who died and suffered along the Berlin Wall invite us to meditate in order to understand what really happened.
A special reunification celebration
In order to celebrate the reunification of the city and country, Berlin was once again a divided city.
Eight thousand white balloons made a 15 kilometer light bounding line from November 7th until the 9th.
They were released into the night sky, carrying messages of hope. Carrying messages of reunification so that such tragedy doesn’t repeat itself.
There were screens in different parts of the city playing scenes from the pacific revolution before the fall of the Wall.
The idea was that all the people, all generations, could see what took place and the repression that they lived in.
At that moment in time people remembered the hundreds of children pleading with others not to take their mothers away, others in jail because they voiced their opinion, continued clashes with the police, desperate and scared people.
Even as they were completely aware of the situation they were immersed in, women and men all over Berlin and Germany made part of the peaceful revolution and shouted: we are the people!!!!
The feelings and emotions due to the celebrations held were running high, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, unrepeatable.
I deeply admire the germans and people might immediately think that they should be admired because of their strong economy, their government, and their efficiency. But, after living here for more than a decade I admire them because aside from all those wonderful characteristics they rebuilt their own country and society.
They were able to overcome the hate. They managed to tear down a wall, not only the built wall that was seen in Berlin and felt all over the country. They tore down the wall that separated their families, their friends, their life.
I wasn’t born when the Berlin Wall was built. I was underage and lived in a different continent when it came down. Today, many years later I am here. I live in a country that was divided and in a city that was imprisoned.