Posts Tagged ‘9 November 1989’

5 February 2018 – half-life of the Berlin Wall

Monday, February 5th, 2018

Half-life is the time required for half of something to undergo a process. Today, on February 5, 2018, Berliners celebrate the halfway point between the Berlin-Wall-era and the post-Berlin-Wall-era. In other words, today the Berlin Wall will have been down for exactly the same number of days that it once stood, namely 10,315.

The Day the Berlin Wall went up

The Berlin Wall went up on 13 August 1961 and divided the city for the next 28 years. The purpose of the monstrosity was to stop the massive exodus of East Germans who were seeking a less controlled and more prosperous life in the West. Prior to the construction of the Wall, an estimated 3.5 million people had defected from East Germany.

The East German government called the barrier an “Anti-Fascist Protective Rampart”, necessary to protect East German citizens from western fascist elements who supposedly were intent on undermining East Germany’s efforts of building a utopian socialist state. The West German government called the barrier the “Wall of Shame.” During its 28-year existence, the Berlin Wall was continually fortified with guard towers, anti-vehicles trenches, beds of nails, dog runs, a death strip and shoot-to-kill orders.

Berlin Wall. Photo © J. Elke Ertle.

Berlin Wall. Photo © J. Elke Ertle.

The Day the Berlin Wall came down

The Berlin Wall stood until 9 November 1989 when it unexpectedly fell in the wake of a misunderstanding. At an East Berlin press conference, Guenter Schabowski, an East German government official misread a new policy that was intended to allow select East Germans to visit the West with proper approval. Instead, Schabowski mistakenly announced that visits to the West would be permitted “immediately.” Within minutes, masses of East Germans headed for the Berlin Wall crossings points. Without specific orders and quickly overwhelmed by the crowds, East German border guards opened the checkpoints. Following that initial border opening on 9 November 1989, there was no going back. Within days, the Berlin Wall began to be dismantled for good.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is my story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.


November 9 – a weighty date in Germany

Monday, January 9th, 2017


November 9 is a weighty date in German history. Depending on the year, it conjures up acts of brutality or widespread euphoria. In 1938, Nazis in Germany and Austria plundered Jewish homes and businesses, torched synagogues and killed and deported Jews during the night of 9 November to 10 November. The night became known as Kristallnacht (crystal night).

On 9 November 1989, the Berlin Wall fell after having separated family and friends for 28 years, which prompted a jubilant celebration.,,

Events preceding Kristallnacht

In the 1920s, most German Jews were fully integrated into German society. When Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in 1933, the situation changed. Hitler branded the 500,000 Jews living in Germany (about 0.86% of the total German population) as enemies of the State. He blamed the Jews for Germany’s defeat in World War I and for the hyperinflation in the 1920s and quickly introduced policies that restricted their rights. Jewish citizens lost the ability to work in civil service, to get accepted into university and to marry non-Jewish Germans. Many Jews left Germany, but as the number of Jews wanting to leave increased, so did the restrictions against them.

In August 1938, authorities revoked residence permits for foreigners, including those of German-born Jews of foreign origin. In the so-called Polenaktion on 28 October 1938, more than 12,000 Polish-born Jews were expelled from Germany. The deportees were put on trains to the Polish border. But Polish border guards sent them back to Germany because Poland no longer accepted “Jews of former Polish origin.” The deportees ended up walking back and forth between Germany and Poland for days. Among those expelled were the Grynszpans, Polish Jews who had emigrated to Germany in 1911 and settled in the north of Germany. Their teenage son Herschel was living in Paris when he received a postcard from his parents on 3 November 1938, describing their expulsion. Four days later, Herschel went to the German embassy in Paris with a revolver in his pocket. He was directed to the office of Ernst vom Rath, a German embassy official. Young Grynszpan fired five bullets at vom Rath who succumbed to his wounds two days later.

What happened during Kristallnacht in 1938?

When news of the death of Ernst vom Rath reached Nazi officials, they decided that the Jews would have to pay for vom Rath’s death. During the night of 9 November to 10 November, Nazi storm troopers destroyed 7,000 Jewish businesses, set fire to more than 900 synagogues, killed 91 Jews and deported some 30,000 Jewish men to concentration camps.

The sounds of breaking glass shattered the air and littered the streets throughout Germany and parts of Austria, which gave rise to the term “Kristallnacht.”

Kristallnacht had also provided an opportunity for Hitler to totally remove Jews from German public life. He ordered that henceforth Jews would be prohibited from practicing most professions in the private sector; Jewish businesses could not be reopened unless non-Jews managed them; Jewish children would be barred from attending school and Jews would lose the right to hold a driver’s licenses or own an automobile. The Nazis held the Jewish community liable for the damages caused during Kristallnacht and imposed a fine of one-billion Reichsmark. In the ten months following Kristallnacht, more than 115,000 Jews emigrated from the Reich. The majority went to other European countries, the US and Palestine. At least 14,000 went to Shanghai.

Kristallnacht and the Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989

Decades later after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Germany chose to declare 3 October 1990 – the day of German reunification – a national holiday rather than 9 November 1989. The main reason cited was the association of the latter date with the anniversary of Kristallnacht, which had occurred more than 50 years earlier.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of





The day the Berlin Wall fell

Saturday, November 9th, 2013

9 November 1989 will be remembered as the day the Berlin Wall fell. The Berlin Wall became the hated symbol of the Cold War. It had stood for twenty-eight years and fell unexpectedly within a few short hours. Not one shot was fired.

What caused the Berlin Wall to fall

In the wake of glasnost and perestroika, Hungary had opened its borders to Austria on 19 August 1989. The following month, thousands of East Germans raced to Hungary to flee to free Austria. Hungary’s border opening created a chain reaction. Demonstrations for increased freedoms broke out all over East Germany. Two months later, in October, East German leaders forced longtime Head of State, Erich Honecker, to resign and installed the moderate, Egon Krenz. With this action they hoped to appease the public. But the protests and the exodus continued. When Hungary tightened its new border crossing policies again, East Germans begged the West German embassy in Prague for help. The situation was quickly becoming a public relations disaster for East Germany.

What was supposed to happen

To release some of the pressure that had built-up, Egon Krenz decided on 9 November 1989 to allow East German refugees to exit legally through the crossing points between East Germany and West Germany, including West Berlin. Furthermore, his government intended to also ease private travel restrictions. These new regulations were to take effect the following day to allow time to inform the border guards. In other words, the East German government intended to relax the regulations for travel abroad. It did not mean to open the borders completely.

What happened instead

Shortly before giving a live evening press conference on 9 November 1989, party spokesman Guenter Schabowski was handed a note announcing the planned travel restriction changes. The regulations had only been written a few hours earlier. Schabowski had not been made privy to their content. Instead, he read at 6:53 p.m. the press release handed to him, “…Und deshalb haben wir uns entschlossen, heute eine Regelung zu treffen, die es jedem Buerger der DDR moeglich macht, ueber Grenzuebergangspunkte der DDR auszureisen – …And that is why we decided, to introduce a new regulation which will make it possible for every citizen of the GDR (East Germany) to legally exit the GDR through existing border crossings.”

When a reporter asked when the new regulations would go into effect, Schabowski shrugged his shoulders and guessed, “Sofort – Immediately.” His offhand answer brought about dramatic consequences.

The beginning of the end of the Berlin Wall

The press conference was aired on East German television and news agencies around the world. Shortly after hearing the broadcast around 7 p.m., East Berliners began gathering at the six checkpoints between East and West Berlin, demanding that the border guards open the gates to the West. The surprised guards frantically called their superiors but received no clear instructions. By 8 p.m. hundreds of people had reached the border crossings. Soon thousands. The crowds failed to disperse. The situation was rapidly deteriorating. The vastly outnumbered soldiers had no way of holding back the huge crowds of East German citizens. By 9 p.m. the guards began to open the checkpoints. By midnight, all of Berlin’s border crossings were open. One hour later, West Germany’s checkpoints were open as well. They never closed again. 9 November 1989 will be remembered as the day the Berlin Wall fell.

East and West Berliners celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall in front of the Brandenburg Gate in the early morning of 10 November 1989. AP Photo - Jockel Finck

East and West Berliners celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall in front of the Brandenburg Gate in the early morning of 10 November 1989.
AP Photo – Jockel Finck


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.