Page last updated at 11:39 GMT, Wednesday, 25 March 2009

2 Oct: Gorbachev in East Berlin


The Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, arrives in East Berlin for anniversary celebrations as protests gather pace


The arrival in East Berlin of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on 7 October for celebrations marking the 40th anniversary of the founding of the East German republic came at a pivotal moment in the gathering crisis.

Over the summer, thousands of East Germans had fled the country, skipping over the border into Hungary and from there into West Germany. Others had made the break after seeking refuge in West German embassies in Prague, Warsaw and Budapest.

Many of these were taken by sealed trains through East Germany. There was chaos as they passed through the country, with East Germans attempting to jump aboard.

At home on the streets of East Germany's largest cities, protesters demanded greater freedoms and rights.

Gorbachev warmly embraced East Germany's hardline leader Erich Honecker at the airport, but he also told the ailing 77-year-old, "Life punishes those who delay."

The Soviet leader - whose calls for reform at home in the USSR were being ignored in Berlin - was feted by ordinary East Germans who greeted him with chants of "Gorby, Gorby!"

As he left East Berlin in the evening, thousands descended on Alexanderplatz, the vast square in the centre of the city. Bearing candles and torches, they chanted slogans demanding change.

Police waded into the crowds with riot sticks. Hundreds were beaten and jailed.

Around this time, Honecker ordered the army to prepare for a "Chinese solution" to the growing dissent - a reference to Beijing's bloody clampdown on protesters in Tiananmen Square in June.

His order was subsequently cancelled by another politburo member. The growing chaos in East Germany had unleashed a power struggle in the upper echelons of the ruling elite and within a fortnight, Honecker had stepped down.

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