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Monday, November 8, 1999 Published at 13:05 GMT


World: Europe

Eyewitness: The night the Wall came down

The Brandenburg gate was the focal point for a massive street party

By BBC News Online's Tim Weber

To my right is a mass of revellers, dancing, singing, drinking champagne and having the time of their lives.

Communism - the end of an era
To my left - a thin line of armed men, nervously holding their Kalashnikov assault rifles, shifting uneasily from foot to foot.

Separating them is the Wall - the masterpiece of East German engineering, stretching for 160 kilometres (100 miles), four metres (13 feet) tall and crowned by a pipe of concrete to deny a foothold.


[ image:  ]
But here, at the Brandenburg Gate, for a short stretch, the Wall is lower, broad and flat. Stepping onto a box pushed up against it, a helping hand from above, a shove from below, that's all it now takes to get on top.

With an inane grin on our faces we hold on to each other, try not to fall off the wall, and watch, ignoring the bitter cold.

And then I hear the noise. Pick, pick, pick. Chuck, chuck, chuck. Growing louder and louder as hundreds of hammers and chisels attack the wall, taking it down chip by chip.

I laugh and laugh - and cry at the same time.

8 November

For weeks the regime had been crumbling, but nobody - East or West - expected the Wall to come down any time soon.

It was a Wednesday, and I had said farewell to a cousin. Harry lived in East Germany and for the first time had been granted a visa to visit West Berlin. To ensure his return, the state had forced him to leave his son and daughter at home in the East.

"When will we meet in the West again?", I asked. Harry guessed that it might take years before he would be given another visa to visit. We hugged each other, said good-bye, and I promised to try and visit him, maybe after Christmas.

9 November

Watching East German television had suddenly become fun. The first few critical reports appeared. Journalists, who once described themselves as a "transmission belt" of the communist party, began to ask probing questions.

On Thursday evening another first: live on television a government news conference, with Western journalists asking the questions.

I was on the phone to a friend, telling him about the newest instalment of East German glasnost, when government spokesman Guenther Schabowski suddenly announced that from Friday morning, 0800 hours, all East Germans could apply for a visa to travel to the West.


[ image: Schabowski's words were a shock]
Schabowski's words were a shock
"So they can use the crossing points at the Berlin Wall?" a journalist queried. A befuddled Mr Schabowski answered: "Yes".

My friend did not believe me when I told him what I had heard. West German journalists appeared to have the same problem. It took more than an hour before news programmes spelled out the meaning of what had been said at the news conference.

The East Germans themselves were less hesitant. They massed at the border, forced the gates open, and began to party.

10 November

The woman was in her thirties, blond perm, faded jeans, a beige windcheater, clutching a plastic bag. She looked startled. One more step to go, and she would be in West Berlin.

To me, it was as if a cage had opened and she stood at its door, not quite sure whether it was safe to take the last big step.

But others behind her were surging forward, taking the woman into the West.


[ image: Many people wanted a souvenir]
Many people wanted a souvenir
Here at Checkpoint Invalidenstrasse, as on all other border crossings, tens of thousands of East Germans flooded into Berlin. For once, the border guards did not act with military precision.

It was a glorious day. A deep blue sky, a glaring sun and crisp, clean November air.

West Berliners had lined up to greet their neighbours. Chants of "Welcome, welcome". Impromptu choirs. And wild applause greeting every East German emerging from beyond the Wall.

On Kurfuerstendamm, then West Berlin's premier shopping street, the department stores were filled with wide-eyed Easterners, pointing at the goods, the prices.

I saw a couple in their forties walking up and down past shelves filled with exotic fruit, pondering whether to spend their precious few Deutschmarks on some Kiwi fruit or splash out on a pineapple.

How did I know that they were from the East? It was easy to spot East Germans. The style of their clothes made them stick out.

And if there was any doubt, the footwear was the clincher. Nearly all East Germans wore seriously unfashionable shoes - at least when seen through the eyes of a Westerner.

11 November

On Saturday, I swam against the stream and travelled to East Berlin, to meet relatives. Cancelling the meeting had been impossible, as the few phone lines between the two parts of Germany were jammed.

There was mayhem at the border.

A human flood poured through the Wall. People swirled around trucks, where bags of roasted coffee were distributed for free - one company's early stab at creating brand loyalty.

Close to the checkpoint, adverts for "West" cigarettes had gone up, sporting the slogan "Test the West".

It was suddenly easier to go from East to West than the other way around.

I slowly inched my way through the border fortifications, past the first wall, the tank traps, the barbed wire, a second wall, more tank obstacles, yet another wall.

Overnight, the border guards, once arrogant and nasty, had become friendly and courteous.

East Berlin itself was deserted. A ghost town, with a few lonely policemen shuffling along empty sidewalks.

Most restaurants and small shops were closed, with hand-written notes on the door: "For technical reasons closed on 10 and 11 November".

West Berlin, meanwhile, had transformed itself into a giant fairground, and the Wall was its biggest ride.

At home, on my desk, I have a little chip of concrete. It is a brownish grey, with a few bits of stone mixed in. My souvenir from those emotional and happy days in November 1989.





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