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The fall of the Berlin Wall through the eyes of four Greeks

09 November 2014 / 23:11:15  GRReporter
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Today, 25 years ago, the Berlin Wall collapsed, an act which symbolised the end of the Cold War and the demise of totalitarian communist regimes across eastern Europe. To mark the occasion, the Ethnos daily has published the recollections of four Greeks who personally experienced the momentous events of November 1989, which did not only lead to the German reunification, but the democratic development of the countries from the former Soviet bloc.

On 9 November 1989, Günter Schabowski, First Secretary of the SED East Berlin chapter and a member of Politbüro, who had become the regime's unofficial spokesman, announced by mistake that the existing restrictions on travels abroad had been lifted. This gave the spark for the gathering of big multitudes in front of the Berlin Wall who then started chipping away at it with their hands thus creating one of the most memorable images of modern history.

A few hours later, Mikhail Gorbachev's associate Anatoly Chernaev wrote in his diary: "The Berlin Wall has fallen. An era in the history of the Socialist system has come to an end. After the Polish and the Hungarian workers’ parties, Erich Honecker was forced from power too; today Zhivkov’s ousting was announced as well. Now we are only left with ‘our close friends’ -Kastro, Ceausescu and Kim Il-sung. People who hate us. "

The changes brewing since early 1989 in the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc reached a boiling point with the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Hungary and Poland had been going through seismic changes. Honecker and Ceausescu were trying to convince the Kremlin to invade their countries with its troops, but Gorbachev refused. He had his hands full with the perestroika and decided that Moscow was not going to interfere in the communists’ attempts to retain power across the USSR’S allies.

A little later, upheavals started across the Baltic countries. As if everybody suddenly forgot about eastern Germany where even the secret services were not fully aware of what was going on both inside and outside their own country.

The collapse

The cracks in the Warsaw Pact were becoming more visible. At the Pact's last meeting, Gorbachev spoke about the opportunity to put an end to the Cold War. He met with strong resistance, but the events across the Eastern Bloc kept spiralling.

The developments in Eastern Germany were taking centre stage: the mass-scale fleeing of its citizens to the West through Warsaw, Prague and Budapest was getting out of control.

According to the then minister of foreign affairs of the USSR Eduard Shevardnadze, Moscow had already written off East Germany back in 1986 and in the spring of 1989 the Politburo discussed a plan to help create a federation of two independent Germanys. Honecker did not even want to hear about it. As Egon Krenz said later, "perhaps he has to be overthrown. Otherwise people will burst through the wall."

In June, Gorbachev visited West Germany and told the Chancellor Helmut Kohl: "Proceed with East Germany as you like." Bonn began making plans for unification, which were later discussed at the round table in December, shortly after the fall of the Wall.

Four Greeks who experienced the events in Berlin close-up describe their experiences.

Nikos Kozanitis

In their eyes, West Berlin was just like another planet

"I was at home watching TV. This was how I learned, like most other people. I did not believe. The border opened and West Berlin was immediately flooded with people. Together with a friend of mine we went out and walked down to the most popular shopping district in town. We saw how East Berliners were watching the shop windows with awe, some rapturously shouting ‘wahnsinn’, which means ‘madness’.

In their eyes, the western part of the city looked like another planet. On November 9, the nation united. The atmosphere was amazing. I became aware of the magnitude of the historical moment from the first instant. Every night was a feast for about a month ", says artist Nikos Kozanitis before Ethnos. Residents of the western part could visit East Berlin as tourists. Nonetheless, there were some constraints: visas, currency, border checks.

"We went to Brecht’s theatre, or to the museums. There were cheap restaurants, but the streets were dark, without lights. People dressed differently and police were present. I remember I was wearing a leather coat during one of the visits, I had bought it second-hand for five marks. East Berliners looked at me wide-eyed and wanted to touch it," adds Kozanitis.

"The fall of the wall filled me with hope that the world would become a better place, that relations between countries would warm up, and better days would come. Something that unfortunately did not materialise," says the artist.

Lambros Savidis

A nation reunited yet there were consequences

"The wall did exist, but it wasn't meddling with our lives. The western government had given a lot of perks to young people. Among them was the opportunity to avoid conscription, but first and foremost was the so-called ‘Berlin supplement’, a cash top-up for every West Berliner. The city was the shop window of the capitalist system," says Lambros Savidis, a member of the Greek Community Council in Berlin.

Tags: fall of the Berlin Wall East Berlin West Berlin reunification memories
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