Full Citation

  • Title The Iron Curtain torn open
  • Author Mcelvoy, Anne Our Foreign Staff
  • Publication Title The Times
  • Collection The Times Digital Archive, 1785-2008
  • Date Friday,  Nov. 10, 1989
  • Issue Number 63548
  • Page Number 1
  • Place of Publication London, England
  • Language English
  • Document Type Article
  • Publication Section News
  • Source Library Times Newspapers Limited
  • Copyright Statement © Times Newspapers Limited.
East Germany allows citizens to leave by any route The Iron Curtain torn open In an historic announce - ment which rendered the Berlin Wall irrelevant, East Germany declared last night that its citizens could leave the country at all crossing points through the Wall and over the 1,000-mile bor - der with West Germany. Herr Gunter Scha - bowski , the Politburo member responsible for the media, said that the new ruling came into effect immediately — 43 years after Winston Churchill Berlmers cross the Wall to freedom proclaimed , in a speech in Fulton, Missouri, that an "Iron Curtain" had de - scen ded across Europe. Herr Schabowski also promised "free democratic and secret elections" and admitted for the first time that East Germany was "a pluralist society in which there are a variety of interests which we did not previously recognize". As a first step the pro - hi bition on the New Forum opposition group was lifted yesterday by the Ministry of the Interior. In a startling acceleration of previous travel proposals, Herr Schabowski announced that all citizens could now be issued with visas for purposes of travel or visiting relatives in the West. But the Wall would stay as a "reinforced state border" , he said. Later , East German radio reported that exit visas would be issued from 8 am today, ending unchecked crossings through the Berlin Wall. Within hours of yesterday's announcement the centre of Berlin took on a festive air Since the Berlin Wall was first erected on August 20, 1961 , more than 100 have died while attempting to escape. More than 300 escaped over the Wall in the first six months of this year. Moscow approval .......... 8 Arms talks pressure 8 The Curtain lifts 16 Leading article. .. 17 with thousands moving back and forwards through the previously formidable barrier. The first East German couple to test the new ruling strolled across the border at the Bonnholmerstrasse crossing at 9.25pm. Guards allowed them to cross without a visa and reassured them that they could return later. There was evident confu - s jon about the new regula - t ions : Atth'e Invalidenstrasse crossing point guards turned people away, telling them to collect a stamp from their local police station first. East German television sta - tions were inundated with calls from viewers stunned by the announcement and anx - ious to hear it repeated. A flustered announcer had to interrupt programmes several times to repeat the news. The relaxation also applies to would-be emigrants who will now be given exit visas to cross at any point on the German border and from East into West Berlin "without delay" , the statement said. More than 200,000 have left East Germany so far this year, about half of them legally. West German officials es - timate that between 1.2 mil - lion and 1.4 million East Germans have applied to leave. West Germany is pre - pared to take all those coming across the border, the Interior Ministry said last night. At Checkpoint Charlie, the Allied crossing point, border guards huddled around a radio set to hear the news. One guard grinning broadly said: "I have stamped other peo - ple 's passports for four years , and I never thought I would stand on the other side of the counter . I can't believe it." His colleague joked : "We will soon be out of a job here." At the Friedrichstrasse crossing , used by pensioners and those East German citi - zens previously allowed to travel to the West, Frau Gerhild Sommer was told of the new arrangements by a border guard. "He said he hoped to see me again when I take my grandchildren on their first trip to West Ger - many ," she said and rushed home to spread the news. West German- television brought pictures late last night of the first East Germans to set foot in the West without visas. At the Rudow crossing point, a young man emerged with his fr iends. "When I heard the news I didn't think about a visa, I just got into my car and drove to the border. It was like a dream." He said the guards were evidently confused by the new regulations. A husband and wife waved their identity cards in disbelief on one street and told report - ers : "We just wanted to put a foot over the line; we were like children, we just couldn't wait. Our little boy is at home asleep so we have to go straight back." They were in and out of the West for the first time within IS minutes. In a bizarre touch many West Berliners rushed through the wall to get a taste of life in the East. By late last night the crush of visitors arriving in the West was already causing concern for Herr Walter Momper, the Mayor of West Berlin. He urged East Berliners to put off their "festive" visits for a day How The Times reported or two because the city could not cope with the crush. At the Humboldt Univer - sity in East Berlin, students leaving a meeting called to set up an independent students' union cheered at the news and chanted "Egon , (Herr Egon Krenz, the East German lead - er ) bring down the Wall" , and "Get the border guards back into industry". "It is breathtaking," said Herr Jens Sommer, a history student. "All those years I learnt about the anti-fascist protection barrier — it is as if our country has finally opened its eyes to reality." Earlier, Herr Schabowski said that the frontier would be MR, COTRCHIIX APPEALS FORA " SPECIALRELATIONSHIP * / .SOVIET .^IROjN ' ^URTAOl^ IN \ „ EUROPE / Churchill's Fulton speech. opened as a provisional step until passage of a proposed new law to allow all East Germans greater freedom of travel to the West. He said that the announce - ment did not necessarily mean the end of the Berlin Wall and hinted that it might become a bargaining chip in disarma - ment negotiations. Western disarmament moves would have "a positive influence" on its future. "Today the decision was taken that makes it possible for all citizens to leave the country through East German border crossing points," Herr Schabowski told a press con - ference . People would need exit visas but local police stations had been told to issue them without delay, he said. On the Alexanderplatz young people gathered to hear the news on East German television. There were scenes of jubilation once they had been reassured by functionar - ies returning to the Central Committee building that the rule extended to all citizens. Chancellor Kohl, on a visit to Poland, called for urgent face-to-face talks with Herr Krenz. "The solution cannot be for many people to come to West Germany. But living conditions should be im - proved in East Germany so they stay. It is in our interest 6 From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an Iron Curtain has descended across the Continent Winston Churchill, March 5,1946 that they stay," he said, Aides said he might cut short his visit today to return and manage Bonn's response to the influx. In London, the Foreign Office gave a cautious wel - come to East Germany's de - cision , noting that permission was still required to travel. Earlier in Moscow, Mr Gennadi Gerasimov, the Sov - iet Foreign Ministry spokes - man , said that the Soviet Union welcomed this week's changes in the East German leadership and hinted that it would even tolerate the loss of communist power there pro - vided the country remained in the Warsaw Pact. The ruling East German Communist Party also an - nounced yesterday that it will hold a full crisis meeting next month to discuss its future. Herr Hans Modrow, the newly-elected Politburo mem - ber chosen as the Prime Minister on Tuesday , deliv - ered the most stinging attack yet on the party's record . "The existence of socialism is at stake," he said. "Many com - munists are bitter about the leadership's mistakes and re - fusal until recently to reform." Herr Schabowski said that the December 15-17 con - ference could purge a large part of the present Central Continued on page 24, col 2 From Anne McEIvoy in East Berlin and Our Foreign Staff in London Dance of freedom: Berliners celebrate on the Wall at the Brandenburg Gate early today as residents from the East poured across the newly-opened border Iron Curtain is ripped apart Continued from page 1 Committee and would be able to fulfil many public expecta - tions for reform. The official media yes - terday voiced doubts about the party's competence in handling the economic and political crisis. The current events were "a lesson for the party ", said a front-page edi - torial in the Berliner Zeitung, adding that Wednesday's Politburo resignations came "not voluntarily and much too late". The paper also accused the party leadership of "ignorance and perverting democratic principles". Crowds of party members had been gathering outside the Central Com - mittee building to demand that the proposed reforms be extended and speeded up. Widespread dissatisfaction is felt with the reconstituted Politburo, which is still largely made up of survivors from Herr Erich Honecker's era. The party executive in Halle yesterday voted by an over - whelming majority to remove from office its regional sec - re t ary , Herr Hans Joachim Bohme, who was re-elected to the Politburo yesterday with 66 votes against him. It was not clear whether he intended to resign his Politburo seat as a result of the vote of no confidence. Dissatisfaction with the Communist Party is now spreading outside the big cit - ies . In Cottbus , near the Polish border, Herr Werner Walde, the local party chief, who was elected on Wednesday as a candidate (non-voting ) mem - ber of the Politburo, resigned after criticism from party members. Herr Horst Lehmann, the Mayor of Stralsund , has been asked to stand down. It was also revealed that Hen - Helmut Mieth , the Mayor of Bautzen , committed suicide at the end of last month after facing hundreds of angry townspeople demonstrating against him. The party conference in December will discuss im - por tant changes in the Central Committee and attempt to reassert democracy within the party . Herr Modrow called on the party yesterday not to delay changes and accused the previous regime of "white - washing and serious errors". He told the plenum: "Every delay or hesitation weakens our position." He is seen as a likely successor to Herr Krenz, who is looking daily more desperate as his promises fail to halt the flood of emigrants and his own popularity con - tinues to diminish. Members are flooding away from the party; some 60,000 have left this year and the leadership is plainly con - cerned at the lack of new thinkers to carry through its promised reforms. The Volkskammer, the country's parliament , has an - nounced that it will meet at the weekend to vote for a new Council of Ministers, with the post of President to be con - tested for the first time. The Liberal Party has nominated its leader, Dr Manfred Gerlach. Mass exodus: East Berliners thronging through the gate at a border crossing point last night, only hours after the announcement that they were free to leave. Historic hurdler: Guard Conrad Schumann escapes in 1961