Fall of the Berlin Wall, from the archive: ‘Another crack in the Wall...’

Politicians said  no one could have foreseen the events of November 1989. This report by Steve Crawshaw proves them wrong

Steve Crawshaw
Monday 27 October 2014 23:49 GMT
East German drivers queue at the Schirnding border crossing into Czecho-slovakia five days before the fall of the Berlin
East German drivers queue at the Schirnding border crossing into Czecho-slovakia five days before the fall of the Berlin (EPA)

From The Independent, 12 September 1989

Yet another East European ninepin seems about to fall. East Germany, after this week, will never be the same again. The opportunity for thousands of Germans to leave their Stalinist state behind them must rank as one of the most astonishing events in an already astonishing year for East Europe. The young Germans who laughed, wept, hugged and cheered after the Hungarian decision to let the tens of thousands of East Germans in Hungary cross the border knew that an impossible-seeming dream had become real. Difficulties still lie ahead for many of those who have streamed across into the West: but the fact that they have been allowed to make a choice is in itself a kind of miracle…

The 6,000 East Germans who had been waiting in Hungarian camps started arriving in West Germany yesterday. They will certainly be joined by many of the 60,000-plus East Germans who are now on holiday in Hungary. But even that is only the beginning. In East Germany today, there is not a single person who does not know – from West German television, from friends or, obliquely, from the vituperative reports in the East German Press – of the dramatic departure of so many countrymen, across the border from Hungary into Austria, and from there into West Germany.

If East Germans continue to be allowed to travel to Hungary, then this week’s flood of refugees may seem only a trickle by comparison with what is yet to come. The old Soviet-bloc joke about open borders – “Last one out, turn the lights off” – could come worryingly close to reality for East Germany’s Communist leaders.

So far the official East German policy has been to resist all hint of change resolutely. Some Soviet magazines have even been banned in a vain attempt to prevent the spread of the glasnost virus. It may all have been to little avail. The Germans may not be as naturally rebellious as the Poles. Certainly, in 1980, there was little sympathy and much resentment at all the boat-rocking by Solidarity and its millions of supporters in Poland. But times have changed, and the immense political changes under way in the rest of East Europe have not passed ordinary East Germans by…

The trouble, from the point of view of the East German government, is that there is no way to go but down. Poland and Hungary can afford to reform their systems beyond recognition: Poland’s and Hungary’s Communists both seek to wear the badge of “social democrats” proudly these days. For Poland and Hungary both have a reality which is independent of the political system which is at present in place. If or when the Soviet system finally falls apart, Poland, Hungary – and, by that time, Czechoslovakia and perhaps the other countries of Eastern Europe – will all be able to exist as independent countries, with a political system of their own choosing.

For the German Democratic Republic, however – to give East Germany its official, improbable title – no such luxury exists. It has no rationale beyond its political system, which was imposed by a foreign power. It has to continue insisting that the present system is the best, since the alternative would be not a newly revamped version of the Democratic Republic, but a unified Germany, perhaps democratic in the real rather than the Orwellian sense: yet another of the unthinkables which in East Europe are so rapidly becoming not only thinkable, but real…

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