!” I was there that night. After the bizarre press conference with Günter Schabowski (“As far as I know… effective immediately, without delay.”) one thing was clear: the Wall had come to an end. At the time, I was a journalist at the taz and we had reported in-depth on the demonstrations in Leipzig and other cities, as well as on internal upheavals in the GDR and the wave of refugees. I assumed that many GDR citizens would take advantage of the opportunity to cross over right away that evening, even if only for a single night.
And so, like many other West Berliners, at around 9 p.m. that night I stood at the Invalidenstrasse border crossing, together with a handful of friends, including one who is now my husband – we lived together in a shared apartment. The barrier was strictly guarded, closed, and secured by GDR border guards. “The Wall must go!” Tenaciously, the crowd pushed further and further forward. At some point there was no stopping either side. The Invalidenstrasse border crossing was stormed by East and West on November 9, 1989. Unbelievable.
What now? Our small group set off towards downtown East Berlin. Without passports, without a map, without any idea or certainty as to how or whether we would even be able to get back into the western part of the city.
While tens of thousands of East Berliners streamed west that night, we, a small group from West Berlin, set out to experience the revolution in the East. We walked up Invalidenstrasse. At the corner of Chausseestrasse one person in our group pulled a spray can out of his jacket and wrote “Will exchange an apartment in Kreuzberg for one in Prenzlauer Berg” on the wall of a building.
None of us had any idea at the time how shrewd the idea was. Prenzlauer Berg and Kreuzberg were run-down, neglected neighborhoods in the walled city of the 1980s. This was one reason why both of these districts were a refuge for groups of artists and the green-alternative political scene. Later on, these districts became the first symbols of Berlin hype and gentrification, but also of successful redevelopment, convergence, and internationalization in Berlin.
Quiet, nearly deserted streets
We moved on. Through quiet, nearly deserted streets, along Friedrichstrasse, past the Berliner Ensemble and the Brecht monument, over Weidendammer Bridge with the Prussian Icarus Biermann had sung about. It was probably midnight when we finally arrived at the Brandenburg Gate, which was bathed in a glow of light from the other side. International TV networks were live on air, and human shadows were moving on the wall, raising their arms and celebrating.
On the eastern side, however, the yellowish-brown street lamps glowed, and armed security forces had positioned themselves in front of the gate. It was spooky, unreal, quiet. Frivolous, even adventurous, and as rash as one can be at such an historical moment, we ran under the Brandenburg Gate towards the Wall. I will never forget the moment I stood under the gate for the first time. I looked up and saw the reliefs. The gate was more powerful than I had expected. I was impressed by the monumentality of this structure, by the incomprehensibility of this night.
Unfortunately, I no longer recall exactly whether I climbed the Wall directly afterwards from the East or a bit later from Strasse des 17. Juni. Anyway, I was pulled up together with others onto the colossally high and surprisingly wide Wall. There I cheered with the others, at a spot I had ignored in my nine years in Berlin and visited only when I had guests from West Germany. Unbelievable.
That night I literally jumped over the Wall several times, was applauded at Checkpoint Charlie and welcomed as an East German. I celebrated on Ku’damm with people who were complete strangers to me. At five o’clock in the morning, the two of us returned home. While we were kissing at the front door, a Trabi chugged over the cobblestones of our street for the first time. Unbelievable.
In the unity lab
My life was shaped by the events of November 9, 1989. Not only because I have been together with my husband ever since that night and have raised two wonderful children with him.
My wall jump anticipated everything that has happened in my life ever since. Over the past 30 years I have mainly moved between West and East. In the spring of 1991, only a few months after reunification, I began working as an editor at what was then Berlin’s largest serious daily newspaper, the Berliner Zeitung – as one of the first West Germans. The newspaper, for which I worked for more than 25 years, was for a long time rightly regarded as a unity lab. With all that entails: The staff was, and still is, a mixed team that ruffles each other’s feathers but complements each other with different experiences. In the early 1990s, the newspaper accompanied the system change, explaining many unknown rules of the West to East Berliners. For curious West Berlin readers, it was something like the key to the East.
There were East-West conflicts in the editorial department, there were West German know-it-alls and whiney Easterners, Stasi affairs and the laborious but rewarding debate of coming to terms with them, there were friendships and rivalries, misunderstandings and, overall, incredible periods of creative collaboration. We experienced a takeover, exploitation and neglect by West German and international owners, years of upheaval and economic downturn, self-confident exchange and identification with a newspaper that critically observed Berlin’s transformation into a metropolis.
Today I work at the MDC – and here, too, I have the feeling of working in a similar laboratory atmosphere. Here as well, people from East and West have created something very special together – bringing young researchers from all over the world to Berlin. None of this would have been possible without the fall of the Berlin Wall.
© picture alliance/imageBROKER/Norbert Michalke