Wednesday, November 12, 2014

People who Made a Difference

I remember the evening clearly. We were watching the Thursday night lineup of network sitcoms. Yes we watched network shows and sitcoms back in those days. It was November 9, 1989. The shows were interrupted to announce history as it happened.

A Mistake

Pressures had been building for a time to reduce travel restrictions between East and West Germany. At some point in the day a decision had been made to move forward on those plans the next day after border guards could be informed and other preparations made. Günter Schabowski the spokesperson for the East German politburo had a scheduled press conference. He was handed a note with this information right before the press conference. He either didn’t fully read the note or it was not clear, but he announced the border would open immediately.

A Decision

Crowds began to gather at the gates of the Berlin Wall. Harald Jäger, the commander of the Bornholmer Straße border crossing had actually been on break earlier and had seen the press conference so he knew why this was happening. He called his superiors but they had no instructions and would not make any decisions.  His border Guards were fearful that if violence broke out they would be quickly overwhelmed. They turned to him for direction, but also wanted no responsibility for a decision. The mass of the crowd also began to be in and of itself a threat to safety. Jager ordered the gates opened. Before the night was over East and West Germans were dancing on top of the wall.


A reality that had been changing moved into fast forward that night propelled forward by a border guard acting on his own, unfortunately because the crossings were demilitarized they no longer needed border guards Jager was unemployed. He wrote about his experience in a book titled The Man Who Opened the Berlin Wall. 

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