Even before the fall of the Berlin Wall the frontiers with the West were starting to crumble.
20 years ago at Shopron, in Hungary, on August 19, there was a token opening of the border with Austria. Six hundred Germans from the east (Communist German Democratic Republic, GDR) were allowed to cross westward. There was joy but also pain at leaving loved ones behind.
Today, in the shadow of the old wall, Dietmar Poguntke remembers that day in Shopron: “I got across passing through this hole, and an Austrian said to me: ‘Welcome to freedom.’ Okay, he said it with a little barb in the tone of his voice. It made me blush. I thought it was going to be like here in Berlin, with plenty of barriers. I said to him: ‘Is that it?’ And he said: ‘You are in Austria.’”
In the weeks that followed, thousands of East Germans converged on Hungary. On humanitarian grounds, at midnight on Sunday 10 September, the country officially opened its border with Austria. This allowed many more to go west. By 11 September, more than 16,000 had crossed from Czechoslavakia into Hungary to join the exodus.
In Prague there were also crowds gathering. By 30 September, there were nearly 4,000 camped in the gardens of the embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany (BDR). Sanitary conditions were hard. As the situation neared the unbearable, West German Foreign Minister Hans Dietrich Genscher went onto the balcony.
Genscher said the former East German authorities had agreed to let people leave for West Germany by train. A corridor was opened, guarded by East German police, to prevent others from trying to escape.
Ralf Doebler, on one of the trains, said: “We travelled via Bad Brambach and the Stasi came in and collected everyone’s identity documents. When I saw the first West German on the train, I could have hugged him. It was crazy. it was the best moment of my life.”
Twenty years on, the emotions of those who had found their freedom are still very strong. At the time they did not know that the Berlin Wall’s days were numbered.
More on the Berlin Wall: www.euronews.net/1989-2009