Virtually everyone in Germany knows the important milestones that led to the opening of the intra-German border – but there was a huge reaction to the fall of the Wall and preceding events in other countries too. So in our “Document of the month” series we look at the response in the US.
Many important events had taken place in the weeks and months leading up to the fall of the Wall – but in the end it happened all at once: in the afternoon of 9 November the Central Committee passed a new travel regulation. In the first instance, the aim was to regulate “permanent” departures, in other words it was directed at those who wanted to leave the GDR for good, primarily via what was then Czechoslovakia. In order to relieve the pressure somewhat, however, “private trips abroad” – with the prospect of returning to the GDR – were also to be possible, although the relevant application would have to be made and applications could be refused in exceptional cases. It fell to Günter Schabowski, recently-appointed media liaison official, to inform the public of this news at a live press conference. When asked by a journalist when the new regulation was to come into effect, he hesitantly replied “immediately, without delay” – a comment which that evening led to a veritable wave of people wanting to cross the border at the various crossing-points along the Wall. Late in the evening the border guards, starting at Bornholmer Strasse, saw no alternative but to let the massive crowds cross the border without any checks. The Wall had fallen.
Huge echo abroad: reaction in the US
There was a huge reaction abroad to what was happening in Berlin. The very next day, the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in Washington reported not only that the American media were full of detailed reports but also that the President had already commented officially on events in Berlin. At a speedily-arranged press conference in his office in the White House, attended also by Secretary of State James Baker, President George Bush voiced his positive reaction, indeed his joy, at the course of events. A “united and free Europe” had always been his goal, he said. A few days later, in a resolution dated 13 November, the Senate too welcomed the opening of the Berlin Wall and called on the Government of the GDR to permanently enshrine freedom of travel. The Embassy’s report had been transmitted by urgent telegram (in officialese, “citissime”, from the Latin). A written report on paper sent in the diplomatic bag would have taken too long. The Embassy’s report was “signed” by the Deputy Head of Mission, Karl-Theodor Paschke, and written by Gunter Pleuger, then First Counsellor at the Embassy, later State Secretary of the Federal Foreign Office.