From the Archives: 'Let the People Out' -- The Night the Wall Fell as Witnessed by SPIEGEL

By SPIEGEL Staff

Crying policemen. Stinking traffic jams of East German Trabis on the posh streets of West Berlin. Strangers falling into each others' arms. The night of Nov. 9, 1989 was unforgettable. A look into the SPIEGEL archives brings the historic day to life.

Wearing nothing but a coat over his pajamas, the man spoke rapidly in his thick Berlin accent: "We live on Bornholmer Street, in the East, you know. I was in bed already. My wife had gone out to walk the dog, came back up and said, 'Hey, they're all going to the West!' I was dressed and out here in a flash."

Another man, driving an East German Trabant car, rolled down his window and excitedly said: "I keep shaking my head. I'm driving on the Kurfürstendamm!" referring to West Berlin's main shopping boulevard.

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Photo Gallery: The Day the Berlin Wall Fell

A woman standing outside the Kaiser William Memorial Church, West Berlin's famous bomb-scarred landmark, stammered: "That's always been my dream, to walk around this monument."

As they watched their East German guests gush with excitement, West Berliners were just as stunned. Many could hardly believe what they were seeing.

It was November 9, the night the Berlin Wall fell.

That night, the whole city celebrated a new Day of German Unity. The concrete behemoth that had enclosed the entire 165.7-kilometer (103-mile) circumference of West Berlin and claimed the lives of more than 70 people had outlasted its creator by mere days. Exactly 22 days and eight hours earlier, Erich Honecker, the East Germany leader who presided over the construction of the Wall and declared it would stand for 100 years, had submitted his resignation. Though the Wall is still standing, it has lost its purpose.

'Let Traffic Flow'

Berlin Mayor Walter Momper received news of the incredible turn of events around 10:25 p.m. He was in Studio E at Radio Free Berlin participating in a live discussion about what will happen now that East Germans are free to travel. A member of his security detail handed him a note, which said that Berlin police headquarters had just reported that the Wall had been breached and that Berliners from both sides of the city were now freely passing through border crossing points.

"At that moment I truly knew how things stood," the mayor said later. On that night, he abruptly abandoned the discussion with the words: "I need to be somewhere else."

Normal rules did not apply during the evening hours of November 9. Although, at the time, the mayor was trying to push through legislation to bring the city's speed limit down to 30 kilometer per hour (19 mph), he was now racing through red lights at 80 kilometers per hour in his government-issued Daimler, followed by a police cruiser with lights flashing. Over his car phone, he arranged to have the members of his cabinet on standby throughout the night, saying: "Have the police track them down, if they have to." Instructing his driver to just cruise past the already forming traffic jam on the side, he headed straight toward one of the structures that Berliners usually preferred to drive away from, not toward: the Berlin Wall crossing point on Invalidenstrasse.

"We won't be the first ones there," the politician joked. "I know my Berliners!" And, of course, he was right. The crowd was so large that it was impossible to move any farther forward. Just a few hundred meters from the Reichstag, where Philipp Scheidemann had proclaimed the Weimar Republic precisely 71 years ago to the day, the mood was festive. As Momper walked, people asked to shake his hand, saying: "Walter, did you ever imagine?" or "Thank you, Walter."

At the East German police barracks, Chief Inspector Rainer Bornstein, whose District 34 also included the Brandenburg Gate, reported to headquarters with a voice made hoarse after his megaphone broke: "It's totally packed on both sides. There's really not much the police can do right now."

Back at the Invalidenstrasse crossing point, which was East German territory, Momper stood near the gate and tried to curb the crowd's emotions: "People, this is a historic situation, but please, let traffic flow."

"If some crazy person over there starts getting violent, all hell will break loose," the worried mayor told his confidants at the crossing. Then he stomped into the guard station and had himself connected with the chief of police: "We need some fencing over here."

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