Fall of the Berlin Wall, from the archive: ‘Hammers chip away as the oranges are brought home...’

A dispatch from Terry Coleman vividly captured the euphoria of reunited Berliners

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From The Independent 13 November 1989.

Yesterday morning was bright and very cold. The Berliner Bank in the Kurfurstendamm does not usually open on Sundays, but by 10am the queue was five deep and a quarter of a mile long. East Germans were waiting to collect their 100 Deutschmarks (£35) in welcome money - a gift from the state which they could pick up from any post office or bank. And what would they spend it on?

An electrician and his wife from Dresden wanted chocolate and toys. Smante Weidner and her husband Peter, a farm worker from Kotbus, said fruit, and a doll for their small baby. Sven Bucher, the 11-year-old son of a blacksmith, wanted a Walkman. Two men, who had already collected their money, carried a bagful of sweets and three pineapples.

A man running a flower stall said they were buying red roses, not in bunches but one or two at a time, at 50p each. They were astonished to see so many flowers.

The Kurfurstendamm was crowded like Oxford Street on Christmas Eve. The Underground at Wittenbergplatz was so packed it was impossible. Taxi drivers refused to try to get near Potsdamer Platz. The streets were jammed with two-stroke Trabants from the East which run on gas-oil and stink. They are like no car built in the West in the last 30 years. I took a double-decker bus, whose driver made no attempt to collect the fares. At the Potsdamer Platz at last, I was taken in the mêlee for an East German and had gifts of chewing gum and chrysanthemums thrust into my hands. The flowers came from a Dutchman who had bought 15,000 bunches from Amsterdam in a truck. The Berliner Morgenpost printed a special edition and gave it away free. It said 800,000 Easterners had made West Berlin their own again. Someone gave away stickers saying “Ein Herz für Deutschland” (One Heart for Germany).

A woman called Evelyn came through the smashed-down Wall with her 11-year-old daughter. She spoke freely, as everyone did, but would not give her second name, since her husband had not yet decided to come over because of his job. I was told that this might be because he was a Party member. Then the West German president, Richard von Weizsäcker, appeared, shook a few hands, and was clapped. His Mercedes, as it left, was followed by a dirty grey Trabant, a dirty green Trabant, and a khaki Wartburg, which were all cheered to the echo.

I heard of no resentment from the East at the sight of the department stores, nor from Westerners at the sheer number of their very poor visitors. It could have been chaos, but it was not.

The only time I have seen such harmlessly jubilant crowds was in Sydney on the night Australia celebrated her 200th birthday. There was beer everywhere but only a few brief brawls.

It is like that here. The Berlin Wall is down, and the death of a monster is being celebrated by vast, docile crowds and the chink, chink, chink of hammers.