American and Soviet tanks square off at Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin, 1961 Just a reminder to all that 21 years ago today, a largely unknown bureaucrat of the Socialist Union Party (SED) named Gunter Schabowski accidentally announced the swift and unintended death of the Berlin Wall. Facing pressure after neighboring Warsaw Pact states had opened their borders, resulting in a flood of East German citizens traveling through Hungary and Czechoslovakia to Austria. Unrest was mounting in across the GDR, with growing protests in Leipzig and Berlin night after night. Erich Honecker, East Germany's longstanding leader, had resigned just 3 weeks prior. The pressure was becoming too much for the politburo to handle, and the new leader Egon Krenze had to take action. The protestors were gaining strength with more and more participants who demanded the basic freedoms they had been denied so long. By 4 November, 1989, the nightly protest in Alexanderplatz, East Berlin had reached half a million. At first the protestors had shouted "We want out!" As the days wore on and their numbers swelled, they began to chant "We are staying here!" The decision was made to liberalize the travel restrictions on East Germans, partly in order to stem the flow of citizens through the Czechoslovakian border points. Shortly after the decision was made to allow refugee travel through all GDR border points, the decision was made to extend the freedom to all travel. That meant that citizens could not simply leave as refugees, but leave and return in good standing. The new rules were to take effect in a matter of days. But, on that fateful night, 9 November 1989, a bureaucrat named Gunter Schabowski was to speak on behalf of the Politburo at a press conference. He was handed a note that outlined the new rules, but said nothing of a delay to inform the border guards or implement further preparations. The rest, as they say, is history... Schabowski (talking to reporters): "A decision was made today, as far as I know. A recommendation from the Politburo was taken up that we take a passage from the travel regulation and put it into effect, that, (um)—as it is called, for better or worse—that regulates permanent exit, leaving the Republic. Since we find it, um, unacceptable that this movement is taking place across the territory of an allied state, which is not an easy burden for that country to bear. Therefore, we have decided today, um, to implement a regulation that allows every citizen of the German Democratic Republic, um, to, um, leave the GDR through any of the border crossings. Reporters: (many voices) When does that go into effect?... Without a passport? Without a passport?—When is that in effect?...At what point does the regulation take effect? Schabowski: What? Reporter: At once? When... Schabowski: (... scratches his head) You see, comrades, I was informed today (puts on his glasses as he speaks further), that such an announcement had been (um) distributed earlier today. You should actually have it already. So, (reading very quickly from the paper): 1) “Applications for travel abroad by private individuals can now be made without the previously existing requirements (of demonstrating a need to travel or proving familial relationships). The travel authorizations will be issued within a short time. Grounds for denial will only be applied in particular exceptional cases. The responsible departments of passport and registration control in the People’s Police district offices in the GDR are instructed to issue visas for permanent exit without delays and without presentation of the existing requirements for permanent exit.” Reporter: With a passport? Schabowski: (um...)(reads “Permanent exit is possible via all GDR border crossings to the FRG. These changes replace the temporary practice of issuing authorizations through GDR consulates and permanent exit with a GDR personal identity card via third countries.” ... Reporter: When does it come into effect? Schabowski: (Looks through his papers...) "That comes into effect, according to my information, immediately, without delay." ... Reporter: You only said the FRG, is the regulation also valid for West Berlin? Schabowski: (reading aloud quickly) “As the Press Office of the Ministry ... the Council of Ministers decided that until the Volkskammer implements a corresponding law, this transition regulation will be in effect.” Reporter: Does this also apply for West Berlin? You only mentioned the FRG. Schabowski: (shrugs his shoulders, frowns, looks at his papers) So ... um hmmm (reads aloud): “Permanent exit can take place via all border crossings from the GDR to the FRG and West Berlin, respectively.” And that flubbed, mistaken announcement was all it took. Within hours, the crossing points were mobbed. Confused guards made frantic phone calls looking for guidance, but no Grenztruppen officer would be so foolish as to authorize lethal force. Overwhelmed by the conviction and size of the crowds, the crossing points were opened. After 28 years, Ostberliners walked to the west as free men and women. Definitely one of my absolute favorite historical subjects. If you haven't had the chance, go to Berlin and see the East Side Gallery, a preserved portion of the wall, and Checkpoint Charlie. It's worth the trip. I can't imagine what it must have been like to be assigned to the Berlin Brigade that night. I'm sure there were some raw nerves, but to witness such a triumph of humanity...what a blessing that must have been. We are blessed to live in an age of such freedom. I am amazed to think that our candidates, by and large, have never lived in a world with a Berlin Wall. Even in my youth, it was the literal iron curtain that defined the division of our world. To think that mere months after Erich Honecker proclaimed that the wall would stand for another hundred years it was dismantled without a shot being fired is amazing to me to this day.