Berlin Wall Ten Years After: `It has lost its meaning. It must be torn down'

Ten years ago today, Neil Ascherson filed this report for `The Independent' on the fall of the Berlin Wall

EAST GERMANY last night decided to throw open its heavily fortified "Iron Curtain" border, including the Berlin Wall. Soon after the announcement was made at 6.55pm local time, East Germans on foot and in cars had begun arriving in the West.

One couple crossed the Bornholmer Strasse checkpoint into West Berlin at 9.15pm, their identity cards stamped with new- style visas. Later, hundreds more were seen coming by way of the Friedrichstrasse underground station. Unusually, others were allowed to come in through the military- run Checkpoint Charlie. Many apparently camewithout visas, although these were technically necessary.

Chancellor Helmut Kohl, on a state visit to Poland, told West German television that he wanted talks with the new East German leader, Egon Krenz. "We will be in contact with the East German leadership shortly after my return," he said, "and I would like to meet very soon with Mr Krenz." Asked how many refugees West Germany could absorb, Mr Kohl said: "We shall have to wait and see how many actually come." He added that it would be in West Germany's interest for East Germans to "stay at home".

US President George Bush said that he was elated with the decision, calling it "a dramatic happening".

The announcement struck West Germany's parliament, the Bundestag, like a thunderbolt. A debate about taxation erupted into ecstatic applause. An impromptu rendition of the third verse of the national anthem - "unity and law and freedom" - filled the chamber. Many parliamentarians called for the immediate pulling down of the Berlin Wall, built in 1961.

The mayor of West Berlin, Walter Momper, said: "This is the day that we have been waiting for for so long. The border will no longer keep us apart. It is a day of happiness for Berlin." Eberhard Diepgen, a Christian Democrat, said: "The wall has lost its meaning. It can and must be torn down."

The East German move has followed weeks of demonstrations and calls for political reform. Though Egon Krenz, the new Communist Party chief and head of state, hinted at forthcoming "free" elections on Wednesday, he dampened hopes yesterday [Friday] by adding that he was "working on the basis that our elections are already not unfree".

The demographic implications of the decision to open the border may prove immense. Some 1.3 million East Germans - from a population of 16.6 million - had already applied to emigrate to the West. With 200,000 having left East Germany this year alone, the army has been brought in to maintain public transport, food deliveries and hospital services.

In West Germany, an Interior Ministry official promised last night that no one would be turned back from the East.

But some West Germans now fear that potential problems of jobs and accommodation could provoke a right-wing political backlash.

Gunter Schabowski, the East German Politburo media chief who announced the open border, said the Berlin Wall would remain standing, for the time being, for military reasons. It was needed to "ensure peace", pending a change of attitude by Nato towards the East.

Early today, hundreds of West Berliners stormed Checkpoint Charlie in an effort to force their way through to the East German side.

They pushed across the white demarcation line dividing East from West Berlin shouting: "We want in, we want in." East German border guards were finding it difficult to hold them back.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there