Gorbachev and Honecker at the 40th anniversary celebration for
the GDR. Within weeks after this Honecker had been forced from office
In 1989, following widespread public anger over the results of local government elections that spring, many citizens applied for exit visas, or left the country illegally. That May, the local elections showed a 100 % vote for the SED. In August 1989 Hungary removed its border restrictions and unsealed its border and more than 13,000 people left East Germany by crossing the "green" border via Czechoslovakia into Hungary and then on to Austria and West Germany.
On the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin shared his memories of the historic event with Russia's NTV TV channel in their documentary film, The Wall.
East Germans leaving on a 'freedom train' from Prague to West Germany
The fall of GDR - East Germany
November 1989, footage of the events as they were happening
at the time. Commentary from Professor David Childs
Honecker agreed to grant East Germans permission to leave, but they would be stripped of their East German citizenship, those in Czechoslovakia would have to return to East Germany, where the 'freedom trains' were mobbed by East Germans, creating a riot with the police. Those who left were called 'scum' and 'ingrates' by Honecker who were being duped by the West. By the end of 1989, almost 50,000 East Germans had left East Germany .
Hungarian soldiers cutting barbed wire on border between Hungary and Austria
Despite this, Honecker still insisted on holding grand celebrations celebrating the 40th anniversary of the founding of the GDR on Oct 9. Despite their differences, Gorbachev was to be the guest of honor, along with Ceausescu from Romania, General Jaruzelski from Poland and Yasser Arafat . They had known each other since the 1960s .Gorbachev insisted that the Soviet Union would not send in troops to defends Honecker's hard line position. Honecker insisted he would remain true to the ways of Marxism-Leninism despite the reforms of Gorbachev . Honecker viewed Gorbachev, as a young, bumbling fool, who would surely be soon replaced by the hardliners in the Soviet Union. When Gorbachev tried to talk of Perestroika, Honecker asked him if the people in the Soviet Union had enough food to eat, hinting at the higher standard of living for East Germans as compared to the Soviets . In his view, the GDR was a great success, there was no need for reform. All of the top leadership of East Germany at the time was in their 70s and too set in the old Stalinists ways .Gorbachev hinted that Honecker should be removed from power at a meeting with the East German Politburo when he said ' When we fall behind, life punished us immediately.' This was interpreted by Krenz and Schabowski as authorization to choose another General Secretary .
40th anniversary celebration for the GDR
Gorbachev's visit set East Germany ablaze and soon demonstrations against Honecker appeared all over East Germany .On the evening of Monday,Oct 9, thousands marched on the city of Leipzig . Weekly Peace Prayers at the Lutheran Nikolaikirche (church) in Leipzig became a meeting place for a growing number of protesters who would meet every Monday . Groups had been meeting here since 1982 for peace prayers, led by Pastor Christian Fuher . After the bogus elections of May, 1989, more and more of those who decided 'To live and stay in the DDR' starting meeting at the church to protest on Mondays. Few were Christians . After Gorbachev left, the worst was expected for the next Monday demonstration on Oct 9. Many feared a bloodbath such as happened at Tiananmen , as large numbers of police and medical personnel were gathered at Leipzig. The people began to chant 'Wir sind das volk !' (We are the people!) .Protesters gathered daily, by the 16 they numbered over 100,000 . Honecker ordered that law and order had to be maintained by all necessary means . However, local government officials Roland Wotzel and Jochen Pommert refused to authorize lethal force .
One of the Monday protests (Montagsdemonstration) in
Leipzig, this one on Oct 17 with over 120,000
Leipziger Montagsdemonstration, 09.10.1989
The demonstrations eventually led Erich Honecker to resign on October 18, and he was replaced by , Egon Krenz. To his surprise, Egon was jeered at. The tide of those leaving east Germany showed no sign of decreasing, within a few days 50,000 more East Germans had left and massive demonstrations, up to a million filled East Berlin on Nov 4. On Nov 7, the East German cabinet resigned and Hans Modrow, the reform minded mayor of Dresden was named the new prime minister ,even this failed to stop the protests . The Stasi chief, Erich Mielke, ordered the Stasi to destroy all sensitive documents .The SED renamed itself the Party of Democratic Socialism and promised open elections scheduled for May, 1990, then moved up to March.
Celebrations on the Berlin Wall on Nov 9
Nov. 9, 1989: The Berlin Wall Falls
The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989
On Nov 9, Gunter Schabowski, the GDR minister of information announced that all citizens of East Germany could leave anytime they wished and go directly to West Germany, with no need to go through a third country . Within minutes the streets came alive as people rushed to the Wall. No one informed the border guards and they could only shrug their shoulders as the masses of people marched by .The barriers were opened to the flood of people at 10:30 PM. An estimated 50,000 crossed the Wall that night, most, just to see, then go home. That night Osseis and Weisses danced and partied on the Berlin Wall. The destruction of the Wall began in earnest the next day as people with sledge hammers or whatever they could find attacked it . Nobody had expected such an event, Kohl was away in Poland .
Of the multitude of the East Germans who later traveled to the West, few decided to remain permanently . Many went over for to get 100 Deutsche marks in 'welcome money.' They were greeted with handouts of money, free beer and free food by the people of West Berlin .An estimated 4.3 million crossed over in the first few days. The Wall was being dismantled in large sections with cranes .
There were many political parties in the 1990 election, some for unification, some against. These students were protesting against unification. Most voted for Kohl's Christian Democrat party and unification with West Germany. It was felt the Christian Democrats would bring the most investment to East Germany.
Tragic comedy about a son who recreates the recent fallen GDR to keep his mother, who has awakened from a coma, from going into shock .