thatswhywelovegermany: Autumn 1989: The refugee crisis that led…


Autumn 1989: The refugee crisis that led to the Fall of the Berlin Wall (pt 1/7)

By default, citizens of the GDR were not allowed to travel abroad. They had to ask for a permit, which was usually granted if they wished to travel to a socialist brother state, but was usually denied if they applied to travel to a non-socialist country, all of which had an agreement with the GDR to stop East Germans from escaping to the West by any means, including the use of firearms.

Permits to visit West Germany were particularly hard to obtain. Even in the case of family affairs such as a funeral, usually only the direct relative was allowed to go while the rest of the family had to stay in the GDR – many interpreted that as their family taken hostage by the state to guarantee their return.

The wish to permanently leave the country and relocate to West Germany was not tolerated and led inevitably to social isolation and economic discrimination steered by the ubiquituous Stasi. The obvious rigging of the local elections in the GDR in May 1989, the unwillingness of the GDR government to follow the societal reforms of glasnost and perestroika, and the desperate economic situation of the GDR contributed to the urgent desire of many to leave the country.

Therefore, numerous citizens of the GDR took the opening of the border between Hungary and Austria in early summer 1989 as an opporunity to escape to West Germany while the border between the two German states was still insurmountable. Others tried to force their emigration, for which they oftentimes had applied many years ago, by occupying West German embassies in East Berlin, Prague, and Budapest.

This situation created immense pressure on the GDR government, which did not only lose thousands of citizens each week, but was also under fire from protests within the country of citizens that were upset with the political and economical situation but did not want to leave. That pressure ultimately caused the big mistake to announce

This series of news reports documents the refugee crisis from its beginning up to the errorneous announcement of a new travel law facilitating journeys outside the Eastern Bloc the day before it was actually implemented, triggering the Fall of the Berlin Wall. After that event, there was no other way than heading for the German reunification.

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