Full Citation

  • Title One million East Germans make it a day to remember
  • Author Tilley, Robert Graves, David
  • Publication Title The Sunday Telegraph
  • Collection The Sunday Telegraph
  • Date Sunday,  Nov. 12, 1989
  • Issue Number 1485
  • Page Number 2
  • Place of Publication London, England
  • Language English
  • Document Type Article
  • Publication Section News
  • Source Library Telegraph Media Group
  • Copyright Statement © Telegraph Media Group Limited.
NEWS One million East Germans make it a day to remember East meets West in a medley of events no one thought could ever happen MORE THAN a million East Germans flooded into the West on Saturday, as souvenir hunters snatched up pieces shattered from the derelict Berlin Wall. It was a day like no other in the 40 years since the two German nations were formed from the rubble of World War Two. Germans from both sides of the now-crumbling Iron Curtain embraced each other, laughed, sang and cried — while many East Germans rushed to West German shops to buy fruit, electronic products and other items they had so long been deprived of. Thousands of the East Germans arriving in West German border towns yesterday went on shopping trips financed by the Bonn Government. As market stalls and shops opened in the historic town of Liineburg, 500 East Germans queued patiently outside the council offices to collect DM100 (£34) "Begrussungsgeld' (welcome money). The scene was repeated in towns along the East German border. A steady stream of East German shoppers arrived throughout the day at the Liineburg cash point, which plans to open today too. The money is paid to all East Germans, regardless of length of stay in the West. Passports or identity cards of East Germans claiming the money are stamped to make sure no one cheats and returns for further handouts. "My wife is shopping for fresh vegetables while I pick up the money," said 40-yearold Herr Erwin Schilke, who had driven from the East German border town of Wittenberge. He was accompanied by his 17-year-old daughter, Brigitte, who wanted to buy jeans with her DM100. Herr Michael Hein, 29. a toolmaker from Magdeburg, was paying his first visit to the West, accompanied by his 25year-old wife, Heike, and fiveyear-old son Roger. "The range of goods here is amazing," he said. "We just don't know what to buy first." In the picturesque market square, below the ornate town hall, East German families, most of them easily recognisable by their out-of-date clothing and down-at-heel appearance, mingled goodnaturedly with local people. Most Liineburg shops stayed open all day instead of closing at mid-day as usual. by Robert Tilley LUNEBURG Bus operators ran free shuttle services to the border to collect East Germans and ferry them to and from Liineburg. East Germans who chose to drive over in their own cars faced long queues at the border and waits of up to three hours. In one inn on the main shopping thoroughfare, a group of East Germans watched in amazement as a troupe of girl carnival dancers, in red tunics and short white skirts broke into a doggerel version of the German national anthem. • In Helmstedt, the main motorway border crossing point between East and West Germany, many of the visitors used their welcome money to drink in the town's bars and cafes, reports David Graves. For most of the East Germans, the sight of goods in the town's shops was worth the journey alone. Frau Anna Dittmar, 45, from Magdeburg, said: "I have waited for this moment for years. Look at the shops. They have everything you can possibly want. Everything we haven't had. It is marvellous. It is as if a bad dream has come to an end." Major Terry Hollingsbee, of the Royal Corps of Military Police, and commander of the Allied military checkpoint at the border, said: "Many of them are over-drinking and then attempting to drive back over the border. There is a tremendous amount of drinkdriving going on. "Under East German law, they are not supposed to drink and drive at all. God knows what is going to happen to them when they get back over fthe border." The RCMP was placed on alert to assist any member of the British Military Garrison stranded on the motorway by the traffic chaos. "I hope noone is taken ill, or starts to have a baby," said Major Hollingsbee. Many of the East Germans simply spent the day windowshopping, and celebrating their new-found freedom.. There were so many East German Trabant cars parked in the centre of Helmstedt that many stalls could not set up for the weekly Saturday market. At one time, the twin-lane queue of traffic stretched back 35 miles from the border to the River Elbe. Only a few East Germans said they intended to emigrate and most later joined a traffic jam on the other side of the motorway to return home. By mid-morning, the West German border police said more than 25,000 East German cars had driven over the border and the number was rising by the hour. Most East Germans who travelled West did so without visas. Their border guards took their names and addresses and asked whether they intended to return, but no restrictions were placed on them. Guards at the West German side of the border, the main Allied motorway corridor to West Berlin, simply waved them through. Many of the guards wore flowers in their buttonholes, and greeted the East Germans with smiles and waves. Three East German border guards standing at the top of a 60 foot high observation post overlooking the scene could only watch the momentous events occurring below with binoculars. Hundreds of West Germans again lined their side of the border to welcome the East Germans, most of whom responded to their first-ever visit to the West by blowing their car horns and waving white handkerchiefs in exuberant scenes. The traffic queues were too much for many elderly Trabants. Mechanics were kept busy with breakdowns and overheated engines. At one stage the huge traffic jam was covered with a haze of exhaust fumes from the Trabants, the majority of which seemed to have few anti-pollution controls. The West German Red Cross opened an emergency soup kitchen at the border for weary East Germans, many of whom had been travelling since the early hours. A petrol company handed out maps and guides to the visitors so they could plan their first trip to the West. • West Berlin's Mayor, Walter Momper, said that more than 500,000 East Germans visited the city yesterday, and crowds were still arriving late into the evening. Most, hwever, said they intended to return across the border to their homes last night. RAINER KLOSTERfEIER/ASSOCIATED PRESS Shoppers' return: Thousands of East German Trabant and Wartburg cars queue in West Berlin in front ofthe Brandenburg Gate as one million day-trippers returned yesterday evening to their homes behind the Wall