Full Citation

  • Title Crossing into the Unknown
  • Author Millar, Peter
  • Publication Title The Sunday Times
  • Collection The Sunday Times Digital Archive, 1822-2006
  • Date Sunday,  Nov. 12, 1989
  • Issue Number 8622
  • Page Number 15
  • Place of Publication London, England
  • Language English
  • Document Type Article
  • Publication Section News
  • Source Library Times Newspapers Limited
  • Copyright Statement © Times Newspapers Limited.
^^^^^^M ^^^^^^ ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ KB ^^^^H^h H^i^^^ft ^^^^BB^^B^Hb^k. ^L^^^^Bfl^^^^^^^. HI^b^h ^^^I^^^^^^^k^B^^b I^^I^^h ^^^^t^^^^M IBB^^h B^^B^^^^^^n^^^^fl I^^^BB ihIBB ^^^^^IS - I^^^h ^^^HLm^^^^H ^^^^B^Ham ^B^fl H^Bi ^^H^H^^^^H ^^Hl^^^K H^^MI^^^H^H flflBB BK^B vflR ^^Bfl^^A tSB BBK^^^^^B^fl ^B^H ^^H^^^H^hHH ^B^^^^H^D hHB BH H^B^^^Hbfl^H ^H^^^^^^Hk ^^^B^H^AJ^^H BBSS H^^B ^H^B^Bv w^^mt^B ^HH ^HR^Hh I^^^H H9H ^^^^H P^^Hfl^^B^^^B ^^^ E^^^^Bl^^r ^^^B ^HBI Hh^h ^^B^B^i^HB ^^^^h ^^^^ B^Bs^BP^ ^ B^^S v^BSF ^^Bfl ¦ ^^^^B BEHIND grey walls that once housed the state bank of the Third Reich — now headquarters of the East German Communist party — Egon Krenz, like a gambler with one life left, decided to go for bust History happens like that. As leadership changes and promises of reform met only continuing emigration and mounting street pro - tests , the central committee, guided by a politburo barely 24 hours in power and already under attack from its grass roots, made a final attempt to salvage the East German state . Thursday's decision to open the bor - ders was designed to relieve the pressure ; in one respect it worked like pulling a cork from a champagne bottle. Running through a cheer - in g gauntlet of beery West Berliners dancing on the wall and throwing flowers at bewildered Checkpoint Charlie border guards, Christiane Schulz, Janna Meyer and Andrea Flei - scher came whooping into the West, spraying Rotka'ppchen , the fizzy party plonk of the East, at grinning policemen . Until 8pm they had had a normal, dull evening , ser v - ing pig's knuckles and mushy peas to Russian tourists at the Hotel Stadt Berlin (East). Then came the news that the the wall was open . They bit their lips and looked at each other. With Teutonic thoroughness they worked until the end of their chift nt 0 Warn hftfore Andrea turned to the others and, with a nervous giggle , said : "Anyone for the Kur - furs tendamm ?" For the first time in their lives , three girls from the East could go to the West End for the evening . For one delirious night most of East Berlin took a walk on the wild side: two - s t roke "Trabbies ", the East's fibre-glass midget cars, raced Mercedes along the glitzy avenues, littered with broken bottles beneath a sky ablaze with fireworks; it was as if a long-awaited marriage had occurred; Ber - lin embraced Berlin. Policemen (West) kissed bus conductresses {East). "Berlin is again Berlin. Germany weeps with joy" screamed the headlines on special edition tabloids handed out free on the streets of the West. From a call-box , Andrea woke her parents in the East "Mutti , I'm on the Ku'damm . It's mad . It's marvellous. Oh, don't be cross . I'm coming back ." Then "Yahoo !" And into' . the melee. Others had their hearts in their mouths . Petra Lorenz, a dumpy , middle-aged mother-of-two , had trav - e lled two hours by bus and tram from her flat in Marzahn, the high-rise sub - urb of East Berlin , leaving her husband to look after their children. "Don't be daft, it's a lie ," he had said. She wandered in a trance for 20 minutes on the western side of Checkpoint Charlie , and went back with a newspaper as souvenir from a dream. The burning question in everyone 's mind was an - s wered by a bus driver from the East, smiling with a crisp certainty. "Can they take back their decision? Close the wall again? Ne - ver . We'll see them sink in ashes first" EGON KRENZ has won breathing space , but the lid will not go back on the box. The Berlin wall has fallen in spirit if not in fact. Yesterday, East Berliners were routinely crossing the artificial frontier , erected to hem them in, faster and more easily than foreigners. Tipsy teenagers coming back from West Berlin sim ply waved identity cards at bemused border guards who only weeks ago might have shot them. It is scarcely two months since East Germany 's house of cards began to fall apart when Hungary , years ahead in the process of democratic reform , declared its border with Austria open and its agreement with East Berlin to return would-be "escap - ers " null and void. A river of emigration became a flood, the biblical term "exodus" became its routine description; it was clear to all which side represented slavery and which the Promised Land. The ripples of the Gorbachev effect had be - come a tidal wave sweeping across Europe. Solidarity - led Poland followed Hun - gary . Czechoslovakia reeled, torn between fear of offend - ing Bonn, thereby risking financial aid, and allegiance to its ideological fellow travellers: the Stalinists in East Berlin. There, Erich Honecker was declaring re - form redundant and Krenz was congratulating China on Tiananmen square. Al - read y it seems ancient history . The ad hoc solution of "expelling" the refugees packed in West German embassies to avoid emba - rrassment before East Germany's fortieth anniver - s ar y did not so much save Honecker's face as cause him to fall on it . The exodus wrecked the econ - om y and disillusioned those who remained. But it also gave them courage . In Leipzig, indus - trial heart of the country, the workers registered their anger in street protests. When the anniversary cel - ebrations unrolled before the false united front of the squabbling members of the Warsaw Pact, Honecker had Gorbachev beside him, but he knew he no longer had Russian troops behind him. The 1953 solution — crushing popular revolt with Soviet tanks — was not applicable in the post - perestroika world of 1989. East Germany's birthday party was the beginning of the end. The protests that broke out on the night of October 7, as Gorbachev flew out of town , flung the communists' symbols in their faces and laid the people's scorn before the eyes of the world. The police repression only in - creased the anger. In an extraordinary state - ment to last week's central committee meeting, Krenz — three weeks ago still considered Honecker's la p - do g — shattered taboos to reveal the back-stabbing that brought him to power . By mid-August , as the refugee problem was begin - nin g to develop, Honecker 's illness — a gall bladder complaint that had in - ca pacitated him since July — had left a power vacuum which his nominated stand - in , Gunter Mittag, failed to fill. In Krenz's words: "At just that time when clever, decisive and united action was urgent , there was mute indecision at the head of the party." Krenz appears to have feared that his own position as crown prince was no longer assured and seized the moment to strike for the job he had awaited for • When it happened no one could quite believe it. PETER MILLAR tells the story of perhaps the most momentous event since the end of the second world war, and the joy of a people tasting freedom for the first time more than 10 years. The statement to the party said: "In discussion with a number of other comrades, Comrade Egon Krenz seized the initiative. They faced strong oppo - si tion from Comrade Erich Honecker. In the politburo there ensued a bitter two - day , fierce political dis - cussi o n ... the former general secretary failed to draw the relevant conclusions." Within a week, the rats had begun to devour one another . It fell to Willi Stoph, 75-year-old prime minister and Honecker's right-hand man, to play the Judas role and propose his sacking . No talk today of "resignation on health grounds ", merely " dis - missal from duty" . Mittag was ousted too, as was propaganda chief Joachim Hermann, responsible for a web of euphemisms re - vealed as lies . It took barely another three weeks for Stoph also to lose all his posts, as the government resigned on Tuesday; the next day the politburo was sliced from its remaining 18 members 4/> 1 1 T3«r Thiirc^air aAor - lit iv i\* uj x uuiduaj ax A~ noon, two of those polit - buro members — Hans - Joachim Bohme and Werner Walde - had had no-confidence votes passed by their local party organ - isations . Unity was illusory. The decision to call a national party conference for December 15-17 was a necessary response to dis - illusion spreading like mil - dew through an atrophied party. In East Berlin on Wednesday night, outside the central committee building, 3,000 party mem - bers held banners calling for "renewal". The sceptics ac - cused the party of trying to usurp tne iasnion tor street demonstration. Some ban - ners showed the "holding hands" symbol of the party — a relic of the enforced merger, 40 years ago, of the social democrats under the communists into the so - called Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED), which has ruled since. The motto on the banner read: " De - spite everything". It is not a widely-shared 1 view. One of the most influential of the still illegal opposition groups to have emerged in the past month rejects the merger and claims it is the true heir to the social democrat tra - di tion . Steffen Reiche, its spokesman, taking advan - tage of the new regulations, spent Friday in West Berlin and declared : "Krenz has won credibility by opening the borders, but not legiti - macy . Only free elections can bring that." And despite deliberately dropped hints from the East Berlin party chief, Gunter Schabowski — who along with Dresden's Hans Mod - row , the man reputed to be a Gorbachev in the wings, has emerged as co-ruler with Krenz in a troika of power — those still seem distant Schabowski has said there is agreement in prin - ci p le , but that the SED would not enter any elec - tion which might wipe it off the map. In other words, the plan is to keep power as long as is possible . How long that will be is anyone 's guess. MICHY, a 40-year-old clown with the Tin Tacks cabaret troupe from the Young Talent House in Prenzlauer Berg, East Ber - lin ^ most politically-aware distnetrwas nTclespair even before' they opened the border. Political cabaret — Sally Bowles aside — is an old Berlin tradition that was kept alive under diffi - cult circumstances in the East under Honecker: "They don't laugh any more. We used to have to fight the censor for every bloody comma. Now we can't even keep up with the jokes on the streets .They had wondered if they dare do a joke about Krenz 's wolf-like appear - ance , only to see a banner on the streets that had already co-opted Little Red Riding Hood with a picture of the party leader and the slogan: "My , what sharp continued on next page 0 The end of an era that even a week ago no one believed possible: East and West Germans stand on top of the Berlin Wall beside the Brandenburg Gate, and breathe the heady air of brotherhood and freedom ^¦ ffiraffgsaTOBSsy' ^^ Joy unlimited: taking the kids on a day-trip to West Berlin Mass exodus in search of the Promised Land 0 continued from page 15 teeth you have, grandma." Many of those who left East Germany forever only weeks ago have also been stunned by the speed of events. Kerstin Falkner and her husband, Andreas, fled via the West German em - bassy in Warsaw last month and have just found jobs in West Berlin. In the early hours of Friday morning Kerstin was reunited on the Ku'damm with her brother Horst and sister-in-law Syl - a . "We 've just popped over for a drink," said Horst, trying to be offhand before he whooped with joy and swung his sister into his arms. At 5.30am they were sitting over tall beers while Kerstin wept quietly with happiness, and Horst, who was heading back East later that day, touted for custom for his mother's beer bar in the East: "Better pig's knuckles than any you get here," he shouted. At 9.00am, when KaDeWe, the Harrods of West Berlin, opened its doors, the East Berliners flooded in to stare. Top of the gawps was the moun - tainous meat and fruit display on the "Gourmet Floor". But most only window shopped. The bor - der might be open but their pockets were empty. The counter assistants had been told to accept East German marks — at a ratio of 10 to one. The lack of convertible currency remains the chief problem for East Berliners heading West. One solution would be for their govern - ment to follow the Polish example and trade legally with its citizens at the black market rate. But there is a danger that if the border remains even relatively permeable , East Germany will be bled dry, the very fear that caused the wall to be built in 1961. The exact rules that will govern travel to the West remain as clear as mud. Police and border guards were passing anything on Thursday night. By Friday they were insisting on stamps , but issuing visas of validity from three days to six months. The stream of honking Eastern cars continued to flow down the Ku'damm , over the border and along Unter den Linden. The wall before the Brandenburg Gate looked more redun - dant than ever. Only the British, French and Ameri - can allies seemed mildly uncomfortable, their pos - ition in Berlin suddenly as doubtful as anyone else's. Krenz has embarked on a scorched earth policy, a retreat to Moscow rules, yielding every demand in the hope of exhausting the enemy. His gamble is that the game was up anyway He hopes opening the borders will stem the flood of emigration, bring in massive aid from West Germany, and establish some form of social equilib - rium that will allow East Germany to continue to exist. But it was one of the founding fathers of com - munism , high deity in the East German pantheon, Friedrich Engels, who p ro - duced the telling maxim: "Everyone strives for his own interests, but in the end what emerges is some - thing no-one intended." Krenz has chosen a very risky card; it could be East Germany's last trump. By dawn yesterday, queues of Trabbies more than 20 miles long stretched back from East German frontiers as families from Leipzig or Dresden took a day trip to Bavaria, and Mecklenburgers went shop - ping in Hamburg. But no one denied that it was Berlin's party. The religious knelt in the streets as the church bells of West Berlin sounded to welcome the visitors. Was it fate that decreed that the wall should crumble on November 9, exactly 51 years after Kristallnacht, the Jewish pogrom engraved in shame on Germany's soul? Had God relented after half a century of purgatory ? As Krenz addressed sev - eral thousand party faithful on the Lustgarten Parade Ground, the city throbbed with the feel of a capital for the first time since its Gotterdammerung in 1945. From the west , search - lights silhouetted the Brandenburg Gate and swaying hordes balanced on V the wall. No open gate on the eastern side yet — although by this morning, there will be four more, including one a few hun - dred yards away on Potsdammerplatz next to the built-over ruins of Hitler's bunker. Another will be at Glienicke Bridge, pre - viously better known for such spy swaps as Gary Powers , the U2 pilot, and the Soviet Jewish activist , Anatoly Shcharansky. Only in the past five years, when it became apparent to both sides that the wall was permanent, have they built right up to it. So instead of empty spaces alongside the wall, it is today flanked with mod - ern architecture — just in time for the barrier to disappear altogether. Exactly when that hap - pens depends on the success of Krenz 's strategem . In his speech on Friday night, he declared that "it used to be said here that people would not leave if they could travel whenever they wanted. Now we are giving it a go." It was delivered with astonishing self-confidence . East Berliners believe their new leader is either a hypocritical fool or the most courageous politician this side of Gorbachev. Even today, most are dis - i nclined to be charitable: "He is only trying to distract attention from the real grievance, the lack of democracy and the un - warranted leading role of his own party," said one disenchanted ex - com - munist . But they are not fleeing. The little cars trundling into the West — which for the next few days at least , will be patted paternally on the roof — seem set to become a feature of West Berlin life. Trabbie petrol, a continued on next page ? up tne wau: a guara a nana *? continued from page 16 foul mix of cheap fuel laced with oil, is being sold alongside ecology-conscious lead-free petrol in Berlin service stations. ALL this has been watched with both concern and exhilaration elsewhere in the world. President Bush welcomed the move as a good one but tried, like the West Germans, to dis - courage a mass exodus from the East. There is clealy concern in Washington that the post - war European order is collapsing and there is no replacement in sight. For once, they admit that they are mere spectators, unable to influence the unfolding drama. "What we are dealing with in Eastern Europ e, and to a lesser extent the Soviet Union , is a revolutionary situation ," said an a dmin - istration official . " Revolu - tionary situations have a dynamic of their own." A Soviet spokesman billed the meeting as "from Yalta to Malta", a reference to the 1945 summit at which Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill approved the Soviet post-war domination of Europe. The Bush administration is not ready for another Yalta. The president has declared his support for a Europe "whole and free", but these are words. The administration has not thought out a blueprint for Europe to replace the strate - gic certainties of the Cold War. The Russians appear re - laxed . Gennady Gerasimov, the Soviet spokesman, called the opening of the borders a wise decision. But he gave a warning on reunification: "Bonn must take into account that policies aimed at re - arrang - ing borders would not suit any government in Europe and would only sow dis - trust Politically, i t is not the time now to talk about r eunification. The two Ger - manies belong to different military blocs." That poses another big question for American pol - ic y makers: how to read Gorbachev's attitude to the collapse of his empire. Despite statements from the Kremlin that events in East Germany, Poland and Hungary are internal mat - ters for those countries, American officials have not discounted the possibility of Soviet military interven - tion . They think a state - ment by an East European country that it intends to leave the Warsaw Pact could provoke the Kremlin to action. If the Russians did send in tanks, America would do nothing — at least nothing militarily. Bush made this clear during his two trips to Europe earlier this year. He does not want to repeat the mistakes of President Eisen - hower , who encouraged Hungarian rebels in the 1950s, only to desert them when the Red Army rolled into Budapest. Most American foreign policy experts doubt mat - ters will reach this stage, but they emphasise the need for some sort of US - Soviet agreement on how to deal with the changes in East Europe. The main problem stand - ing in the way of any such agreement is the future of Germany. Bush recently paid lip service to the idea The week's events also raised the stakes for the superpower summit early next month. The White House is trying to play it down, but the Kremlin is clearly hoping for an im - portant statement on East Europe. t i and euphoria. Their mood was summed up as ever by Wolf Biermann , the exiled singer-songwriter who has remained the voice of East Berlin: "We had already half-swallowed the lie that the sun could never rise again in the East," he said. Berlin has been the key city of our century, alter - natively a symbol of tyr - anny and freedom. The wall that divided it divided Europe and the world. There are now gaping holes in that wall, and the rest of the world can only watch, and hold its breath. Additional reporting: John Cassidy, Washington of reunification , but there are grave doubts about it among the American mili - tary . James Baker, the sec - retary of state, admitted that there was a problem reconciling the German de - sire for unification with the Kremlin's demand that East Germany remain within the Warsaw Pact. He tried to sidestep the issue by argu - ing that talk about German reunification was premature because East Germany had a long way to go before becoming truly democratic. All this seems esoteric to Berliners, caught up in hope Six months to freedom OMay: Hungary opens border with Austria August 200 East Germans fleeing each night from Hungary into Austria Aug 19:700 East Germans surge across border after attending frontier picnic Sept 3:20,000 in tent cities in Hungary; 6,000 have crossed into Austria since May Sept 10: Hungary waives border controls; thousands cross ©Sept 25:10,000 march in Leipzig in biggest demonstration since 1953 © Oct 7: Fortieth anniversary of East Germany; police attack protesters during demonstrations; Gorbachev warns Honecker he is on his own. © Oct 16:120,000 march in Leipzig Oct 18: Krenz replaces Honecker 0 Nov 4: Emigration allowed through Czechoslovakia 0 Nov 4: lm march in East Berlin Nov 7: Government resigns e Nov 8: Politburo resigns; free elections promised & Nov 9: East German borders opened; Bonn says this year it has allowed in 240,000 East German refugees ^¦ 1^1—^—i'Mill ^^^a^lillNl^iii^il^lU^