‘Dad, if you keep driving this fast, we will be the first!’

On the 20th anniversary of the opening of the Hungarian border, Gerhard Meyer recalls how a black market sports car helped him be the first East German to cross into West Germany just hours after officials made the announcement.

'Dad, if you keep driving this fast, we will be the first!'
Gerhard Meyer shows his family's passports at the Passau checkpoint. Photo: DPA

On September 11, 1989, nothing could stop Gerhard Meyer. When Hungary opened its borders to Austria for refugees from East Germany on that day, the canteen manager, returning from holiday in Bulgaria, pulled ahead of his fellow countrymen in a Japanese sports car he’d bought on the black market.

The barriers were lifted at midnight, and by 3:05 am, Meyer, his wife and their two children reached Lower Bavaria, and entered West Germany.

The 39-year old East Berliner set off with a full tank and his speedometer read over 200 kilometres per hour more than once during the 400 kilometre trip from Lake Balaton in Hungary, which took just two and a half hours to complete.

At the Hungary-Austria border, those fleeing from East Germany were given West German passports, hot off the press, along with money for petrol and provisions. But Meyer said he didn’t want to end up in a race with his fellow East Germans.

“We set off in a convoy of 10 or 20 cars,” he told news agency DPA.

Soon, though, the famously slow East German “Trabis” (officially known as “Trabants”) could no longer keep pace with Meyer’s speedy machine. Meyer, now 59, remembers several of the iconic vehicles breaking down, and others just limping along.

“Gradually, because of that, we all spread out,” Meyer said.

As they continued on their way through Austria, one of his daughters turned to him and said, “Dad, if you keep going this fast, we will be the first!” From that moment on, Meyer said he wouldn’t stop for anything.

His daughter proved to be right. On that night, even journalists and customs officers at the West German border were surprised as the Meyers drove by on the motorway. Nobody had expected such an early arrival.

“For 28 years, we had been trapped, but at the point when we were approaching freedom, everyone was asleep,” Meyer remembered of the approach to the border.

It was a similar story when the family reached Passau in Bavaria, where special accommodations had been built in a field for arrivals from East Germany.

As the Meyer family arrived, no one was there apart from one caretaker. The family drove on further to another emergency accommodation site.

In the twenty years since the fall of the wall, the gastronomist has stuck with his trade.

“I now have five restaurants in Berlin,” he said.

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