9 November 1989 in Berlin: The question that tore down the Wall 25 years ago

When the GDR government convened a press conference for the 9 November 1989, no one expected that there would be crowds pushing through the border crossings towards West Berlin just four hours later.

And if spokesman Günter Schabowski had been better prepared and not gotten confused by reporter questions, that night would probably have taken a different course.

At the centre of events was Peter Brinkmann, BILD-correspondent.

On that cold autumn day, the press conference in itself was a sign of new openness, Brinkmann remembers. The GDR actually decided to make it easier for East German citizens to travel abroad. But the new rules were only supposed to take effect the next morning (10 November).

Yet, things turned out quite differently.

Brinkmann is certain that Schabowski did not read the notes with the new announcements before. In the middle of Schabowski's lengthy speech, an Italian correspondent dug deeper and asked about the relaxed travel restrictions.

Suddenly everyone woke up. Schabowski rummaged around in his papers, and then proclaimed: "Therefore we have decided today, um, to create a framework that will make it possible for every citizen of the GDR, um, to travel, um, across the border crossings of the GDR."

Then Brinkmann inquired: "Starting when? Immediately?" followed by Schabowski giving one of the most momentous pronouncements in history: "In my opinion, it takes effect... immediately... without delay." Brinkmann asked whether this affects Berlin's border crossings, too. Schabowski confirmed.

It was a sensation. As Brinkmann remembers, the big rush came around 10pm "after Western TV announced that the borders were open".

Now there was no stopping: hundreds of thousands of East Berliners stormed the border crossings. The Wall had fallen.

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