The morning of November 10, 1989, Karin and Peter sat side by side on the remnants of the Berlin Wall with their friends and sipped champagne. They had brought with them five bottles left over from the wedding ceremony. Walter carried the glasses and Lotte a bag of snickerdoodles.
November 9th had been Peter and Krista’s wedding day. After the ceremony in the church, officiated by Bishop Kugel, they had enjoyed the best reception the Schweitzers could afford. Perhaps it was a blessing that most of the living room furniture had been sold off, because where else could they have put all the guests? Magda and Liesl baked the cake and pastries and Lotte brought armloads of flowers and decorated the downstairs rooms. Krista looked elegant in one of her mother’s old ball gowns, retrimmed, and Peter was well-turned out in his black pastoral suit, the only formal clothes he owned. Karl even brought his wife.
The newlyweds spent the last hours of the evening in the Schweitzers’ kitchen with their friends telling each other stories of the whirlwind the past months had been. They were planning on leaving for Klingenthal in the morning to spend their honeymoon in the best room the Red Ox could supply, at least according to Frau Hintermoser. Their wedding night would be spent in Krista’s old bedroom with its pink rose wallpaper and matching bedspread, and bouquets on all level surfaces, courtesy of Lotte.
Just before the party broke up, someone turned on the radio and at 10:00 p.m, they heard the broadcast that validated all the difficult times that had gone before. They quickly commandeered cars – Krista taking her father’s BMW and Karl his little tin box – and raced for Berlin.
In the end, the Wall fell not by the storming of thousands of protestors, but through government incompetence and indecision. On November 9, the same day as the wedding, the GDR Politburo finally surrendered to public pressure and issued a statement that all gates to the West would be allowed.
A few minutes past six that evening, the Politburo’s media spokesman arrived at the International Press Center to make the announcement. The center was packed with print and television journalists including cameras from the GDR’s newly uncensored television news. The spokesman, Gunter Schabowski, was tired and a little distracted. He had received the document detailing the new travel regulations, although he hadn‘t yet had time to read them thoroughly.
There were other speakers before him and the announcement of the new travel rules came as the final item on the agenda. At 6:53 p.m., sweating slightly under the TV lights and obviously exhausted, Schabowski came up to the mic to read the document.
“For the alteration of the situation regarding permanent exit of GDR citizens via the Czechoslovakian Socialist Republic…” He stopped reading the bureaucratese and put down the paper to use his own words.
“This directive,” he said, “will make it possible for every citizen of the GDR to leave the country using all border crossing points of the GDR.”
“Is this a mistake?” asked an Italian journalist.
“When will this decree take effect?” asked someone from the U.S.
Schabowski peered near-sightedly at the papers he held. “As far as I know, uh,… immediately.”
There was a heavy silence.
Schabowski added nervously, to clarify his position, “Without delay.”
In his fatigue, he had failed to notice that the regulation was not supposed to come into effect until the next day, November, 10th, when guards would be in place to regulate the flow.
But a GDR newscaster announced at 7:00 p.m. that night that Schabowski had verified that this included West Berlin. The rumor began to spread to the streets and crowds began to gather at the checkpoints. Associated Press was the first to broadcast the amazing news, “The GDR is opening its borders.” Within a half hour, all the other agencies had picked it up and conveyed it, word for word, to their home offices.
The huge crowds waiting behind a chain link fence were starting to press forward and to threaten the handful of border guards trying to keep them in order. Large numbers of West Berliners were already gathering on the other side.
“Come over! Come over!” they shouted.
“We are trying!” the East Berliners called back, shoving another few feet closer to the guards.
The checkpoint commander realized the potential for disaster the situation posed, and ordered his men to stop checking passports. He shrugged his shoulders as if to say, ‘Enough of this farce.’
“Alles auf!” he ordered. “Everyone out!” and the gates swung open. The Westerners greeted the Easterners with cries of joy and open arms. Some broke out champagne and toasted the new arrivals as they simply walked, or, in most cases, ran into West Berlin. The sensation of running freely over the bridge, of crossing a border where just days or even hours before, they would have courted near-certain death, brought a surge of exhilaration.
By midnight, all the border checkpoints had been forced to open and hundreds of thousands of ecstatic people were pouring through the checkpoints in the Wall, and opening up new breaches when the official passageways became clogged. A delirious celebration between the Ossies and the Wessies engulfed the entire city. The world was in an uproar.
The picture of Europe constructed in the mind of all its citizens for the past forty years underwent an irreversible shift. Many returned to the Wall and clambered on top to dance and yell their hearts out in liberation and delight. Some had brought sledge hammers and began to demolish the hated symbol. Before dawn, large portions of the Wall had been dismantled. From where they were standing in Potzdamer Plotz, the heart of old Berlin, the Wall seemed full of people, sitting, standing, singing, dancing, shouting “Berlin is one again!”
The new day dawned but Peter and Krista stayed on, wrapped in blankets. As the sun rose and warmed the air, small family groups of East Germans came into the platz with toddlers in wheeled wagons. Then, very cautiously, accepting the 100 West German marks ‘Greeting Money’ provided by the Berlin city council, they went shopping. Nothing extravagant, one or two small items, perhaps some fresh fruit, toys for the children. Krista located some decent bath towels to replace the shabby, faded ones in Peter’s bath and some lingerie they never could have found in the Eastern Zone. Her new married life would be celebrated with those tiny bits of comfort.
Then, holding their carrier bags, the East Germans walked quietly back through the holes in the Wall, through the grey, deserted streets of East Berlin, home. As they passed back through the checkpoints, Peter noticed that the graffiti on the west side of the Wall was becoming obscured with ladders and ropes, and missing sections. All except for one spray painted word that stood out from the rest.
About the Author
Pamela Urfer grew up in Berkeley, California and attended the University of California Berkeley majoring in Comparative Literature. She married Don Urfer, a Structural Engineer, in 1967, the Summer of Love. They moved to Santa Cruz, CA, to raise goats. Their three children grew up there, raising sheep, pigs, chicken and rabbits for the 4-H fairs. Pamela got her M.A. in Literature from UC Santa Cruz and began teaching English Lit. at Bethany College. She also led drama groups at Bethany and local churches. She is now retired and spends her time writing, gardening, and teaching Creative Writing on cruise ships. She has produced a TV Special for PBS titled “A Life Worth Living: The 60th Birthday Party of J.S. Bach” and a series of videos on the Book of Romans.