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Twenty Years Ago - The News Conference That Toppled The Berlin Wall


This week marks the twentieth anniversary of the destruction of the Berlin Wall, and the beginning of the end of oppressive Communist rule that kept Eastern Europe under the boot of the Soviet Union for nearly forty five years.

It all started with a seemingly mundane news conference, reports Reuters correspondent Volker Warkentin, that suddenly ended with a stunning (and accidentally bungled) announcement:

I was fortunate enough to witness that most famous news conference of modern German history on November 9, called with no great fanfare by Politburo member and spokesman Guenter Schabowski.

For an hour he had rambled through the dull deliberations of a meeting of the Communist Party's ruling Central Committee.

Many journalists had already left the small, stuffy windowless room on the first floor of the International Press Center where news conferences were held. Some had headed home, some drifted to the restaurant where the Stasi security police routinely observed foreign reporters by hidden camera.

Even though pressure had been building on the East German government for months to grant "Reisefreiheit" -- or freedom to travel -- Schabowski had nothing to say about that until near the end of his presentation when he was asked about travel rules by Riccardo Ehrman of the Italian news agency ANSA at 6:53 p.m.

"Therefore...um...we have decided today...um...to implement a regulation that allows every citizen of the German Democratic Republic...um...to...um...leave East Germany through any of the border crossings," said Schabowski.

He appeared scarcely to believe his own words and we were all dumbfounded. What did he just say?

Schabowski was asked when the new rule would take effect.

"That comes into effect...according to my information.... immediately, without delay," Schabowski stammered, shuffling through the papers spread in front of him as he sought in vain for more information.

It later emerged the announcement was not supposed to be released until 4 a.m. the next morning. He also meant to say East Germans could apply for visas in an orderly manner at the appropriate state agency. The sudden rush to the border that so overwhelmed the guards there was the last thing he had in mind.

I believe we should take great pleasure in the fact that perhaps the single greatest act of liberation during my lifetime came about as the result of a screw-up by a bureaucrat acting as an agent of one of the most repressive Communist regimes in human history.

Secretary of State Clinton is in Germany today, to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

And of course there are those who still lament the end of the German Democratic Republic, and its state-guaranteed employment. It's truly frightening that some people would willfully exchange freedom for terror in order to receive a meager handout from the state.


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Comments (12)

Michael, as always your wri... (Below threshold)

Michael, as always your writing is excellent. The last sentence gave me a giggle, though:

"It's truly frightening that some people would willfully exchange freedom for terror in order to receive a meager handout from the state."

It should be noted that the U.S. House of Representatives just passed PelosiCare. Ergo, your last line is quite relevant.

I'm glad to see that our De... (Below threshold)

I'm glad to see that our Dear Leader saw it necessary to attend the 20th anniversary of this monumental event. Oh, that's right, he didn't. After all - why would a commie want to celebrate the fall of communism?

It is laughable that Hillar... (Below threshold)
recovering liberal democrat:

It is laughable that Hillary should be there for the celebration. She is an Alinsky-ite that believes those behind the Iron Curtain were better off because of the cruel unfair policies of a free capitalist America. "O" couldn't be there because it would mean a total retraction of what he believes America should be.

Yes Clancy, Barakn... (Below threshold)

Yes Clancy,

Baraknikov can be counted on to miss any event that celebrates freedom or liberation from His ideology.

Barry is not going because ... (Below threshold)

Barry is not going because it's not about Him.

Re: "Barry is not going bec... (Below threshold)

Re: "Barry is not going because it's not about Him."


And any kind words about his predecessors would make him uncomfortable.

In my opinion Barry is not ... (Below threshold)
Upset Old Guy:

In my opinion Barry is not going because as President-elect he wanted to speak at the Brandenburg Gate and the German's refused him as that venue is reserved for heads of state and at that point he was not.

So in Barry's mind the Germans dissed him. And that is not something that happens without Barry getting his revenge.

I thought Barry was not goi... (Below threshold)

I thought Barry was not going because it is beyond his comprehension how people would celebrate freedom from totalitarian government.

"So in Barry's mind the Ger... (Below threshold)

"So in Barry's mind the Germans dissed him. And that is not something that happens without Barry getting his revenge"

If He really wanted revenge He would show up and torture them with a 45 minute speech about how great He is for bringing about that collapse 20 years ago.

An interesting anecdote to ... (Below threshold)

An interesting anecdote to share. My father was in the U.S. Secret Service from Kennedy to Bush 41. He saw a lot of historic moments during his career, but two events stood out for him and perhaps made him one of the very very few to have personally witnessed both.

He was in Berlin with President Kennedy in 1963 when the Berlin wall was first erected and Kennedy said, "Ich bin ein Berliner!"

He was in Berlin again with President Reagan in 1987 when Reagan said, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.!" Shortly after that, the Berlin wall came down.

Gee, words can have consequ... (Below threshold)

Gee, words can have consequences. Someone better alert Barry.

#10 that's wonderful... (Below threshold)

#10 that's wonderful
ps I wish mom would have lived to see the wall be torn down. she lived there and escaped from Hitler's reign before the wall was built






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