In one of those curious coincidences that seems to happen to me frequently, the morning after we returned from our short break in Berlin BBC Radio 4 broadcast a drama based on the moment in July 1988 when, improbably, Bruce Springsteen performed before an audience of 300,000 people from all over the German Democratic Republic (GDR) in East Berlin in a concert watched live on state television by millions more. Continue reading “When Springsteen played East Berlin”
Though nothing will drive them away
We can be heroes just for one day
We can be us, just for one day
I can remember
Standing by the wall
And the guns, shot above our heads
And we kissed, as though nothing could fall
And the shame was on the other side
Oh, we can beat them, forever and ever
Then we could be heroes just for one day
We can be heroes
We can be heroes just for one day
– Heroes, David Bowie
On 9 November 1989, three days before this iconic photograph was taken, the East German government – amid some confusion – announced that anyone wishing to visit the West would be granted a visa. Ecstatic crowds surged at the Berlin Wall and guards were left with no choice but to open the various gates and checkpoints. That night ended forty years of division between East and West Berlin. I was born three months into the Berlin blockade and airlift; on the night of 9 November 1989 I watched as Newsnight broadcast the amazing scenes from Berlin, a five-year old daughter asleep upstairs, dreaming, perhaps, of a brave new world. Continue reading “9 November 1989: ‘Something there is that doesn’t love a wall’”
Twenty years ago today, massive demonstrations in East Germany finally bore fruit when Erich Honecker was forced to step down as party leader. Tension had been building in East Germany for weeks. In August Hungary had removed its physical border defences with Austria, and in September more than 13,000 East German tourists in Hungary escaped to Austria. This set began chain of events. East Germans flooded the West German embassy in Budapest and refused to leave. This triggered similar events in Czechoslovakia. The East German authorities allowed the East Germans in the Prague embassy to leave for West Germany, providing that they used a train which crossed East Germany on the way. Continue reading “A kiss seals Honecker’s fate”
Hungary began dismantling its frontier barriers to Austria on May 2, 1989. This allowed East German citizens an unexpected escape route; the Iron Curtain had suffered its first tear. This picture shows numerous East German Trabants and Wartburgs parked on a Budapest street. East German refugees had driven to Hungary in these cars but abandoned them when they fled to the West.
This is the opening of an excellent article by Neal Ascherson in today’s special issue of the Observer Review, celebrating the events of 1989:
Twenty years ago, a landscape began to tremble. At first, nobody noticed anything special. In January 1989, business was much as usual in the Soviet half of Europe. Strikes in Poland, harassment of East German dissidents, a Czech playwright called Vaclav Havel arrested yet again after a small demonstration. The west had more important stories to think about. George Bush Sr was being inaugurated as president of the United States, and Salman Rushdie was in hiding after the Iranian fatwa. In Moscow, that wonderful Mikhail Gorbachev was pushing ahead with his perestroika and glasnost.
Then the trembling increased. The mountains around the cold war horizon began to wobble and fall over. Polish communism went first. Next, Hungary’s rulers published an abdication plan. In August, the Baltic republics of the Soviet Union began to demand independence. In November, Erich Honecker of East Germany was overthrown, and on 9 November the Berlin Wall was breached.
Next day, a palace coup in Bulgaria brought down Todor Zhivkov, the party leader. On 28 November, the Czechoslovak communist regime surrendered to the people. In December, Nicolae Ceausescu of Romania was chased from office and shot. And just three days before the end of the year, on 29 December 1989, Vaclav Havel became president of the Czechoslovak Republic.
Links: Observer features
- A time when hope replaced repression: Neal Ascherson
- Changing face of a continent: timeline
- The art and culture of the year of revolt