Posted by: ingogulde | March 13, 2010

Thousands of East Germans waited in Prague to leave for West Germany

Pivotal Moments of German History (Part 1)

More and more East Germans tried to escape their home country through Hungary to Austria and then West Germany. Others tried to escape through the Czech Republic.

Starting in August 1989, hundreds and later thousands of East Germans sought refuge in the West German Embassy in Prague. I remember watching TV and seeing people climbing the fence to get into the embassy. The inside was crowed with people and tents and the outside with hundreds of abandoned cars.

People were both afraid of the consequences of their attempt to escape and hopeful to start a new, free, and better life in the West. One could feel the immense tension even through TV.

In September, the conditions at the embassy worsened. There were not nearly enough sanitary facilities to accommodate several thousands of people. Supply became a growing issue. Bad weather made the situation even more dramatic.

The night of September 30, 1989 would decide the fate of 4,000 refugees. At an UN General Assembly, former Foreign Secretaries of West Germany, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, and the Soviet Union, Eduard Schewardnadse, negotiated a deal. Genscher returned from New York to address the waiting people from East Germany in Prague. Genscher stepped on the balcony to announce his famous words:

„Liebe Landsleute,
wir sind zu Ihnen gekommen,
um Ihnen mitzuteilen,
dass heute Ihre Ausreise…“

“Dear fellow countrymen,
we have come to you
to tell you
that today your departure…”

After the keyword “departure” exclamations of pure joy and relieve. The most famous half sentence in German History changed not only the lives of the refugees in Prague but also the lives of millions of others in the East. 4,000 people escaped to West Germany by train. Nine days later the borders were opened and people were free to leave or stay.

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