In their own words: East Berliners on the Wall

The Stasi man, the spin doctor, the dissident and teenager tell of the day when the Wall came down
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The Independent Online

The Stasi man: HARALD JAGER was a Lieutenant Colonel in the despised Stasi secret police.

When the Berlin Wall fell, he was the officer in charge of the Bornholmer bridge East-West crossing point in the Wall. On November 9 1989 he was confronted by a crowd of more than 20,000 East Berliners chanting “Open the gate!.” He began letting the most vociferous into West Berlin. Initially he marked their passports with a stamp which indicated that they should never be let back in to the east. But the crowd started trampling down a fence. “Open up – let them all out ” he ordered the guards. The barriers opened – the Wall began to fall.

“I got around 4,000 Euros in compensation from the government after the Stasi was disbanded. The first thing I did with the new freedom was to travel to the Danish island of Bornholm. Then I went to Norway and Austria. I worked selling newspapers. After that I sold ice cream. In my final job I worked as a night watchman. I still find it strange that my pension comes to more than the amount I paid in- that’s the social market economy. In my heart I am still a leftist, but my head tells me that it’s utopian to believe that everyone should be rich.”

The dissident leader: BARBEL BOHLEY

Bohley was expelled from East Germany a year before the Berlin Wall fell for taking part in protests seeking an end to human rights abuses. On her return she became one of the leaders of the country’s dissident movement and co-founded the “New Forum” party which helped to topple the regime. “I think its wrong to have a huge and expensive celebration to mark the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Wall. They should use the money to help the typhoon victims in the Philippines” she says. “When I look back, I think we as dissidents were stupid. Hardly any of us are in politics nowadays.

“We should have all gone to Bonn, which was then the political capital and we should have insisted on our people being given some key political jobs. But that just didn’t happen. Even as people who were opposed to communism, we were not free enough in our heads to make use of the opportunities we had. She lives in east Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg district. “The district has changed completely since 1989. It used to be full of students, academics, workers and pensioners. “Nowadays the whole district seems to be full of young west Germans. They all moved in after 1989. But in the 20 years that have elapsed, they have become as boring as the parents they left behind in west Germany”.

The Spin doctor: GUNTER SCHABOWSKI, 80, was the East German Communist politburo’s media spokesman on November 9 1989.

He gave a press conference that evening and mistakenly declared that the regime’s plans to open the country’s borders with the west would come into force “immediately.” Schabowski’s mistake opened the Wall. After reunification, he was sentenced to three years in prison for supporting the East German policy of shooting would be escapers to the west on sight.

“I look back on November 9 with satisfaction and a certain amount of pride. Some people respect what I did at that press conference and see it as an attempt to bridge the east west divide. But the Linke (Left party and successor organisation to the former East German Communist party) still thinks Schabowski is a traitor and bastard.

“I said what I said at the press conference because I did not know any better and because the leadership had decided in priciple to allow people to travel freely. Even if they had decided to allow people to travel the next day it wouldn’t have changed anything.

“With hindsight I think we did everything wrong in East Germany. Any attempt to construct a socialist society is certain to fail”.

The East Berlin teenager: UTA WOHLFARTH, 38, was eighteen on the night of November 9 1989.

“I grew up right next to the Wall. The apartment block I used to live in with my parents backed on to it. I remember seeing the guards who used to patrol the Wall right next to our house.

“Like most other East German school children, I had to join the Communist party youth organisations. Not joining meant that you could face problems.

“On November 9, I watched Schabowski give his press conference on telvision. The fall of the Berlin Wall wasn’t such a big surprise for me. We all felt that something was going to happen. I didn’t go to West Berlin until a few days after the Wall had fallen. I remember we went by bus into a part of West Berlin called Neuko(umlaut)lln. It is a run down area and I was quite shocked. I thought the whole of West Berlin would be luxurious, at least that’s the idea we got from looking at West German television. I was quite disappointed and thought It’s not much different from where we live in the east !

“For me there is no question that the fall of the Wall was a good thing. I was able to pursue my interests properly after it happened. I studied graphic design and met my husband, who is a West Berliner, in a bar in East Berlin.