• Germany's news in English

How 12 words helped bring down the Wall

The Local · 2 Oct 2014, 15:38

Published: 02 Oct 2014 15:38 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

In 1989, 4,500 East Germans fled to Prague in then-communist Czechoslovakia to find safety at the West German embassy.

The Czechoslovakian Government forbade them from entering West Germany due to travel restriction from communist East Germany, the GDR, so they camped out in the embassy grounds. 

Genscher was serving as foreign minister to West Germany and could sympathize with the refugees. He himself had fled East Germany in 1952.

He decided to reach out to Russian and GDR officials to negotiate a deal to allow them to cross into the West.

On September 30th, 1989 at 6.58pm, Genscher stepped out onto a balcony of the West German embassy.

He only managed to say these words: “Wir sind zu Ihnen gekommen, um Ihnen mitzuteilen, dass heute Ihre Ausreise..." ("We have come to you to tell you that today, your departure..), before the crowd erupted into cheers, tears and screams that drowned out the rest of his speech.

"At that moment Europe was born again," Genscher told reporters at a commemoration of the speech in Prague on Tuesday. "For me it was the most beautiful and happiest day of my political career."

That same day, at 8.50 pm, 1,200 refugees left Prague on the first of the so-called “freedom trains” towards Dresden before turning to the Bavarian town of Hof. 

Those few thousand started a flood. The number of East Germans leaving for West Germany soon became too great, and led to the announcement on November 9th 1989 that the GDR’s borders would open.

The Berlin Wall was no more.

"Those refugees who were in Prague took their fate in their own hands, but in reality they made history," Genscher said on Tuesday.

Nazi, communism, capitalism

Genscher continued to work as foreign minister until 1992 when he stepped down. He had held his position for 18 years, making him Europe’s longest-serving foreign minister at the time.

Now 87, he was born in the East German town of Reideburg, now part of Halle, in 1927.

During World War II at the age of 16, he was drafted to the German Luftwaffe and was briefly held as a prisoner of war by American and British forces.

After the war he began studying law and economics at the universities of Halle and Leipzig and became a member of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDPD) in 1946.

In 1952, he fled East Germany for the West and joined the Free Democratic Party (FDP) the same year.

He went on to complete his law exams in Hamburg and worked as a solicitor in Bremen before working for the FDP for many years.

Genscher rose through the Liberal party ranks, becoming a member of the Bundestag and was named interior minister by Chancellor Willy Brandt in 1969, before becoming foreign minister five years later.

Story continues below…

Today, the father-of-one still works as a lawyer and runs his own consulting firm in Bonn.

On Tuesday, he warned of a fresh split in Europe between East and West because of the Ukraine crisis. "Anyone who feels responsibility for European stability, peace and cooperation should be deeply concerned," he said.

Pining with privilege

In an interview with Deutsche Welle in 2009, Genscher said that some Germans may still “pine for the old days, but it's worth noting that they do so with the privilege of living in a free society”.

“I have the impression that unity is much more advanced than some would like," he said.

"It is particularly encouraging for me when I speak at universities or spend time with young people,” he said. ”The future - and that is their life - is a shared future. They have to face this together and that's why looking into the future is also a common vision. Nobody can deny that.”

By Emma Anderson

For more news from Germany, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Berlin Holocaust memorial could not be built now: creator
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, in Berlin. Photo: DPA.

The architect of the Berlin Holocaust memorial has said that, if he tried to build the monument again today, it would not be possible due to rising xenophobia and anti-Semitism in Germany and the United States.

'Liberal' Germany stopping Europe's 'slide into barbarism'
Ian Kershaw. Photo: DPA

Europe is not slipping into the same dark tunnel of hate and nationalism that it did in the 1930s - mainly thanks to Germany - one of the continent's leading historians has said.

Eurowings strike to hit 40,000 passengers
Travelers impacted by the strike on Thursday wait at Cologne Bonn airport. Photo: DPA.

The day-long strike by a Eurowings cabin crew union is expected to impact some 40,000 passengers on Thursday as hundreds of flights have been cancelled.

Deutsche Bank reports surprise quarter billion profit
Photo: DPA

Troubled German lender Deutsche Bank reported Thursday a surprise €256-million profit in the third quarter, compared with a loss of more than six billion in the same period last year.

US 'warned Merkel' against Chinese takeover of tech firm
Aixtron HQ. Photo: DPA

The German government withdrew its approval for a Chinese firm to purchase Aixtron, which makes semiconductor equipment, after the US secret services raised security concerns, a German media report said Wednesday.

Long-vanished German car brand joins electric race
Photo: DPA

Cars bearing the stamp of once-defunct manufacturer Borgward will once again roll off an assembly line in north Germany from 2018, the firm said Wednesday.

Eurowings cabin crew union to strike all day Thursday
Photo: DPA.

UPDATE: A union representing cabin crews on Lufthansa's budget airline Eurowings has announced that strikes will last all day Thursday as ongoing contract negotiations continue to falter.

Hesse hopes to set example by building Iraqi orphanages
Refugee children in northern Iraq. Photo: DPA

The wealthy central German state of Hesse has set aside €1 million to build a school, family homes and an orphanage in northern Iraq, in an effort to help refugees there.

The Local List
10 German clichés that foreigners get very wrong
David Hasselhoff. Photo: DPA

Whether it be efficiency, humourlessness or a love of a certain Baywatch star, there are many cliches stuck in the heads of foreigners about Germany. But how true are they?

Fake Germanwings victim relative convicted in Cologne
A torn piece of metal at the crash site in 2015. Photo: DPA

A German court on Wednesday gave a woman a year's suspended jail sentence for posing as the cousin of a victim in last year's Germanwings plane crash and obtaining compensation offered by the airline.

10 German clichés that foreigners get very wrong
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
10 ways German completely messes up your English
Germany's 10 most weird and wonderful landmarks
10 things you never knew about socialist East Germany
How Germans fell in love with America's favourite squash
How I ditched London for Berlin and became a published author
12 clever German idioms that'll make you sound like a pro
23 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
9 unmissable events to check out in Germany this October
10 things you never knew about German reunification
10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
10 German films you have to watch before you die
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd