09-November-1989 Archive

19 October 2009: Berlin Wall / End of the GDR links for today

Here are today’s selected links concerning that very important moment in German History (and world history), the fall of the Berlin Wall. If you missed them, consider reviewing other recent entries containing Berlin Wall / GDR links. And don’t forget the Berlin Wall Resources page, which I’ve updated just today.

Now on to today’s links:

  • With the teaser “Barack is too busy”, Der Spiegel (in English) announces that the U.S. President will not attend Berlin’s celebrations of the 20th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall. Rick Richman, at his Commentary blog, wishes it were otherwise.
  • The Telegraph meets up with Egon Krenz, who congratulates himself on avoiding blood shed in October and November 1989.
  • At Forbes.com, Joshua Hammer celebrates the Berlin that has emerged in the last 20 years since the Wall fell. He calls the German capital “the most dynamic city in Europe.” And he reminds us that it wasn’t always so:
    For until the mid-19th century, Berlin was a backwater. Goethe called it “crude.” Voltaire said it had “astoundingly many bayonets and very few books.” Stendhal wondered, “What could have possessed people to found a city in the middle of all this sand,” referring to the marshy plain upon which the city is built.

Today’s video cannot be embedded here on the page, I’m afraid. But it’s a good one, and it’s only the first in a planned series of five at the Guardian. So I recommend you go have a look. Part One is called ‘The Berlin Wall was a monster'”, quoting one of the persons interviewed for the video.

16 October 2009: Berlin Wall / End of the GDR links for today

Welcome back to my continuing series of links commemorating the 20th anniversary of a very important moment in German History: the opening of the checkpoints along the Berlin Wall on 09 November 1989.

For today’s links I decided to select articles from “major media”, namely the New York Times and Time Magazine.

  • From the New York Times comes the 1988 article “Protests Mark Berlin Wall’s 27th Anniversary”. I found it really fascinating to read an account of protests going on just one year before the Wall’s fall. One excerpt:
    Dozens of West Germans demonstrated in front of the Brandenburg Gate. They carried life-size portraits of Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the Soviet leader, and called on him to press East Germany to tear down the wall.

    Remember those heady days with Gorbachev? Or are you too young?

  • And from Time Magazine’s archives comes this article, “Refugees Freedom Train”, dated 16 October 1989, about one month before the Wall fell. The article describes the continued emigration of East German citizens via other bloc countries, and the very awkward 40th anniversary of the East German regime which had just been celebrated in Berlin with a less-than-enthusiastic Mikhail Gorbachev visiting. Excerpt:
    Few expect things to get better under Honecker. And though in failing health, he shows no signs of turning power over to the next generation. While their neighbors in Poland and Hungary rush to embrace the reforms of perestroika and glasnost, East Germany’s aged chieftains have stoutly withstood all blandishments, even from Gorbachev, to abandon the strict orthodoxies of conventional Communism. The result: a country so calcified that its citizens find a hopeful future only in flight.

Today’s video is a U.S. propaganda film from 1962 entitled “The Wall”. Below is the YouTube clip; more information is available at the Internet Archive’s entry for “The Wall”. The film lasts nine minutes and, as far as I could tell in my quick viewing of it, seems to be factually accurate. At one point in the video (7:57) you will quickly see a small memorial to Ida Siekmann, to whom I dedicated a short blog post sometime back: “Remember Ida Siekmann”.

15 October 2009: Berlin Wall / End of the GDR links for today

Some links for today in my ongoing series commemorating the 20th Anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall:

  • Did East Germans originate from apes? Well to find the answer to that question (which is, of course, a joke) you will need to see today’s article at Telegraph.co.uk titled “West German spies collected jokes from behind the Berlin Wall”.
  • “Germany: East is East” is the title of an article by Wolfgang Kerler appearing at the ipsnews.net site. The article highlights some of the major differences — for example in income and optimism — between western and eastern parts of Germany even today, 20 years later. One example: unemployment is 12% in the “new states” (the states that were once part of the GDR), whereas only 7% of the west german working population is jobless.
  • At the Wall Street Journal’s WSJ.com, see a slideshow of the wall being erected right now in Berlin — a wall that will be toppled quite soon.

Today’s video comes from the geobeats.com site, which I had never seen before and which looks very interesting. It is a video about the Berlin Wall produced by Sybille Spinola and hosted by the very charming Dörthe Eickelberg, who speaks perfect English throughout the video.

14 October 2009: Berlin Wall / End of the GDR links for today

I have a few links today. Warning: the first two could be construed as political, particularly the second. I generally avoid politics like the plague in this blog. But I think these two balance each other a bit:

The next two items are resources, one of them audio, the other a very impressive map-based online tour of the area of the Wall and the artifacts along the perimeter.

  • iMinds.com has an eight minute forty-four second audio clip all about the Berlin Wall, available for $0.99 at Audible.com. I have not purchased it or heard it. But I just think it’s cool that someone is selling bite size pieces of educational audio like that.
  • The Brandenburg Technical University has put up a fantastic virtual tour of the perimeter of the Berlin Wall. Unfortunately the text is all in German, so you may not understand the captions attached to each market spot along the perimeter. But I still think it would be fun to click around on the map and popup some photos. You’ll get the idea when you get there… click on the map on the right side of the page, then just play around with the larger map that appears.

Finally, here is another video available at YouTube. It’s from ABC News (U.S.), narrated by Peter Jennings. It’s a nice look at the Wall’s fall and the subsequent collapse of other European communist regimes:

13 October 2009: Berlin Wall / End of the GDR links for today

Just one link today. It’s a video, and it’s a dandy, but unfortunately in German.

Never fear, your translator is here.

Please, at least watch the first nine minutes of this 40+ minute documentary that appeared on ZDF, Germany’s “second” public station. The name of the show is Flucht in die Freiheit“, “Escape to Freedom”. (Note: it will ask you to select the speed of your connection so as to gauge the quality of the video it sends to you. I think it’s clear what the three Brandbreite (bandwidth) options are: they go from slowest to fastest. Select one and choose the link at the bottom-right labeled “Übernehmen”.)

“Escape to Freedom” tells the stories of many who escaped (or attempted to escape) East Berlin using techniques such as tunnel-digging, crossing with false passports, and … well, one guy found a pretty straightforward way to get out. And that’s the story of the first nine minutes of this show.

It concerns Wolfgang Engels, who is 19 years old and a civilian working with the National People’s Army in 1963. Here’s your guide to his story, the first nine minutes of “Escape to Freedom”…

00:00 — Introduction to the documentary, a hint of the kinds of escape attempts you will see in the show.

01:50 — Wolfgang Engels (19 years old) works for the National People’s Army (NVA). He arrives at a base in his nice car.

02:30 — Engels greets the soldiers who drive the armored vehicle. One of those drivers is interviewed for the documentary: “He drove a beautiful car — we were jealous of him.” They talk about the armored vehicles — “a discussion among men”.

03:00 — Engels interviewed today: “They were interested in my car, and I was interested in their armored vehicle. They were proud to show it to me. They even showed me the inside and let me climb in.”

03:15 — The soldier interviewed today: “He didn’t ask too intensively. He made it sound casual.”

03:30 — Engels asks them a lot of questions. How does it work? How does start it up? How does one get it in to gear?

03:55 — One of those soldiers interviewed today: “No, no, [we had] no suspicions.”

04:00 — 17 April 1963: His chance comes as the soldiers go to the mess hall. “I climbed in and drove away.”

04:30 — A sentry signals for him to stop. He breaks easily through the chain at the gate.

04:45 — One of those soldiers interviewed today: “Now it was clear to us that he wanted to flee the country. It couldn’t have been anything else.”

05:05 — Travel time to the Wall is 20 minutes. No one follows him. It was nothing unusual to have a military vehicle on the streets of East Berlin.

05:20 — The only traffic light on his route happened to be red as he approached it. But the policeman stationed there turned it to green for him, following normal procedure.

05:45 — He reaches the place where he wants to break through. There is no turning back now.

06:18 — There he goes, into the Wall!

06:34 — “Part of the hood of the vehicle was in West Berlin, but the doors were still in East Berlin.”

06:43 — East German border police open fire. Engels: “I felt the shot like a kick in my side. Then it just felt hot. But I was still able to get back into the vehicle, then climb up to the front and up on to the wall where the barbed wire was.”

07:15 — “I laid there and the border police continued to fire at me.”

07:25 — Covered by West Berlin policemen who fired back, civilians are able to pull Wolfgang Engels down from the wall into West Berlin. He is critically wounded. They take him to a tavern.

07:42 — “From the floor where I was laying — just in front of the bar — I could see the several brands of liquor that we East Berliners only knew about from advertisements. And then I knew: ‘You made it.'”

08:05 — The story hits the western newspapers. The escape of 19 year-old Wolfgang Engels is a sensation. He leaves the hospital weeks later.

Great story!

12 October 2009: Berlin Wall / End of the GDR links for today

Here are a few links I came across today, and another video.

  • I thought this was cool: students at the Communication and Culture graduate program at Indiana University are going to be partying like it’s 1989 to help celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Wall’s fall.
  • The AP (linked via ABC News (U.S.) has a look at the tunnels secretly built below Berlin (and the Wall) to help those wanting to escape the East. I definitely want to go back to Berlin to tour the “underbelly of the German capital.”

Today’s video is from the folks at germany.info (the German mission to the United States). It’s a very short one video whose only purpose is to advertise the slogan “Freedom Without Walls”, which they are using for their commemorations within the United States. But I liked the use of multiple U.S. Presidents in it.

11 October 2009: Berlin Wall / End of the GDR links for today

I’ll be posting lots of links in the next month as we come upon the 20th anniversary of the opening of the checkpoints in Berlin on 09 November 1989. Today’s textual links concentrate on what some might consider the true anniversary date: two days ago, 09 October. This was the day in 1989 when a mass of 70,000 people successfully made their way arm-in-arm around the city of Leipzig in East Germany, singing “Wir sind das Volk” (We are the People) as they passed Stasi headquarters. No shots were fired, no blood was let. To many, this signaled the regime’s weakness and thereby spurred on continuing, ever-growing demonstrations.

I enjoy Tony Paterson’s article, “Europe’s Revolution: The pastor who brought down the Berlin Wall”, because he can insert a bit of personal perspective, having visited Leipzig that year to cover the city’s annual trade fair. His piece concerns Christian Führer, pastor of Leipzig’s Nikolai Church, which had become the famous location of the Monday prayer meetings which climaxed with the events of 09 October. Paterson:

The Monday meetings just kept growing and growing: from about 600 in late 1988 to 4,000 in September 1989.

At that point, the regime started cracking down:

“There were these terrible beatings,” recalled Führer.

That was in September. So you can imagine the tension that grew each Monday, with the participants knowing that the regime had now shown itself to be willing to use violence. Read Paterson’s article for the rest of the story.

The BBC’s Brian Hanrahan (“The Day I Outflanked the Stasi“) became very familiar with the events of 9 October 1989, having traveled there incognito to cover them. He escaped Stasi attempts to apprehend him and was later able to report what he saw on BBC television news. Read Hanrahan’s article and view the original television news segment.

I close with another great video found at YouTube. This concerns 9 November 1989 itself (not 9 October like the two articles mentioned above). I really enjoy this video for the up-close and personal footage it offers. Hundreds of East Berliners have descended upon the Bornholmer Strasse and are anxious to cross. The hesitation of the authorities is very evident here. Watch and enjoy!