Günter Schabowski

The global event

Professor Erhard Geißler, former employee of the Central Institute for Molecular Biology (ZIM) and of the MDC as well as former Head of the Bioethics Research Group

From the letters and diaries of Erhard Geißler, ZIM, autumn 1989
It’s like in a fairy tale. No, like in a dream: What will happen when we wake up?
Erhard Geißler
Erhard Geißler Former employee of the Central Institute for Molecular Biology (ZIM) and of the MDC as well as former Head of the Bioethics Research Group

October 27

I don’t get around to working in the evening, because I have to watch television and read the newspaper. Two days ago, for instance, Elf99 broadcast a clip from the panel discussion that took place in the House of Young Talents including Stefan Heym [writer], Christoph Hein [writer and dramatist], two philosophy professors at the Humboldt Uni, a secretary of the Free German Youth’s Central Committee, Deputy Culture Minister Hartmut König, Gisela Steineckert [writer], and Bärbel Bohley and Prof. Jens Reich of the New Forum. And the discussion wasn’t even that contentious. Oh, and Markus Wolf [former head of foreign espionage] was also on the panel. If I remember correctly, he was sitting right by Bärbel Bohley. Two or three weeks ago that wouldn’t have been imaginable in even my wildest dreams!

Sonntag has now started listing questions recently asked in the Professors’ Forum on live TV, including one asked of Karl-Eduard von Schnitzler [journalist and presenter of the “Schwarzer Kanal”]: “Are you a politician for change or a Cold Warrior?” – which he indignantly denied, on the show itself. But demonstrators on the streets weren’t only shouting “Ein Krenz macht noch keinen Lenz” [protesting the lack of change under Egon Krenz], they were also shouting “Send Schnitzler to the Muppet Show”…

November 5

This morning we were at Magdeburg Cathedral, among other places. Several boards had been set up with appeals, comments, etc., including a long text from the SDP and from the Böhlen Platform[tb1]  [a coalition of opposition groups]. Lots of cars in M. have green ribbons on their antennae, or people have them affixed to their clothing: We will stay and we have hope.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t take part in the big Berlin demo yesterday [because of our participation in the 20-year anniversary of human genetics in M.]. We heard on the radio that 500,000 to 1,000,000 people are believed to have taken part, and that the demonstration was peaceful. These are truly exciting times, and I do not share the worries of many people here that there could be an about-face. Too much has been set in motion, and here in Central Europe, right at the junction of two military blocs, you can’t solve your problems the way they it was done in Beijing a few months ago.

November 8

Yesterday the Council of Ministers resigned, early this morning the Politburo resigned, at lunchtime a new Politburo was elected and Modrow was proposed as minister president. According to the AND [the GDR news service], the New Forum is to be legally recognized.

It’s like in a fairy tale. No, like in a dream: What will happen when we wake up?

At the press conference at November 9th 1989 Günter Schabowski announced the opening of the German-German border.

November 10

Late yesterday afternoon I, once again, watched Schabowski’s press conference with great interest… In his answer to the final question, he in actual fact announces that the border can temporarily be crossed with a visa in your DPA [the East German identity card]. We heard it, but we didn’t truly grasp it… and so we went to bed around 10:30. And thus we missed THE GLOBAL SENSATION. Renate woke me early this morning, telling me that the border had been opened in the night and that we could go over with just our DPA until 8 a.m. (News flash: The first Trabbi has been stolen on the Reeperbahn [in Hamburg].)

November 12

The checkpoint at Potsdamer Platz has now been opened. Today 800,000 people went over to West Berlin, another 500,000 to West Germany (11-hour waits at the Helmstedt checkpoint).

November 13

More sensational events: 1) People’s Parliament session broadcast live on TV – including by ARD [West German television channel]. 2) The chair will be elected by secret ballot; several candidates were nominated. 3) For the first time, there is “debate” and not just statements by the parliamentary groups. Ardenne [scientist and head of the Manfred von Ardenne Institute] has called for Marxist ideology to be adapted to human nature.

November 14


A noteworthy day: Went to the Memorial Church, the Reichstag, and behind the Brandenburg Gate with Uli – and then we cheerfully wended our way home across Potsdamer Platz.

November 15

In the morning I went into the institute and registered with astonishment how the executive has responded to THE WENDE (party office dissolved, party secretary no longer takes part in executive sessions, incoming mail from abroad is no longer monitored by the executive, outgoing mail can be handed directly to the mailroom without having to pass unsealed through the director’s office, telephone calls abroad are handled similarly).

December 29

How will things go on in this country? What will become of our institutes and the Academy? What about the school system? Thankfully, we don’t have to go through too great a psychological change. We have nothing to reproach ourselves with – apart from the forced conformity, for example, with regard to the obligation to report foreign visitors to the office afterwards or preferably beforehand, or keeping secret private contacts during business trips abroad, or allowing all incoming and outgoing mail to be sent via the desk of the director or of a more or rather less competent staff member appointed by him [who on occasion would return a letter to me because I had written a personal greeting to the recipient’s wife, for example]. Not having to report visitors and the end of the ban on private contacts during business trips abroad are extraordinarily relaxing to the psyche. Last week, when I was in Cologne, having been invited by the University shortly before the Wende, I was able to openly visit my cousin Ruth, who is well over 70, and I was no longer worried about being seen in public with her... Of course, I had also visited her on previous trips to Cologne [I had been approved for foreign travel since 1968], but I always felt anxious about it and was always hoping the elderly lady wouldn’t let the cat out of the bag in one of her letters.

What an exciting time this is! How fortunate we are to be a part of it! I never would have thought I’d experience the opening of the Wall. And now I can see on live television, through the tears in my eyes, the Wall being broken down at Potsdamer Platz, where I watched the first barriers going up 28 years ago.


© picture alliance / dpa / dpa-Zentralbild