When the Berlin Wall fell and the borders were opened, many Germans could not believe it.
“I first saw it on the news that night, around 7pm. I saw the people pushing through the checkpoints, walking through the death zone and climbing onto the Wall. And all I thought was ‘Thank God! Finally! The border is open and they are free again’”, 87-year-old Hanna Kaufmann remembers.
In the 28 years the Wall was standing, this resulted in dozens of people getting shot; even those who stumbled up to the Wall clearly drunk as well as those already injured or retreating. The sheer mass of people pushing through on 9th November 1989 and the lack of orders for the border guards, meant that the turnpikes opened and the guards stood back. West Berliners lined the streets and clapped, greeting East Germans who came across with hugs and lots of happy tears.
Hanna adds: “We’d been granted visas seven times, and knew what it was like over there. One time, our friends asked us to bring strawberries and a roast, because you couldn’t get these things over there. We arrived in Dresden around midnight and our friends insisted on making the roast right there and then because they were so excited about it. Western newspapers and books were confiscated, though.”
News about the new travel arrangements and the opening of the border spread like a fire across both sides of the divide. Mario Ständer was working the late shift when he heard the news.
“I planned to take my chance and flee into the West right after clocking off. At that time, all I knew was that those willing to leave could do so – but never return.”
However, his mate refused to drive him to the border.
“Fortunately, the borders stayed upon, and I eventually made it into the West”, he says.
Bernadette Disler was living in Lucerne, Switzerland, when the Berlin Wall fell.
“Back then, although I knew something big was happening, it was too far away, in a different country, to really concern me. But now that I live in Germany, I can grasp just how big it was and how good it was for Germany to reunite.”
However, this sentiment is not shared by everyone.
“Reuniting with the East only cost the West a lot of money, and we’re still spending more. They should have made the Wall 10m higher, if you ask me”, says one of Marion’s neighbours, who wishes to remain anonymous.
But on the 25th anniversary of the Wall’s demise, especially Berlin is celebrating with thousands of Germans gathering in front of the Brandenburg Gate.
The Lichtgrenze (Border of Lights) installation commemorates the former border between East and West Germany, and runs a total of 15km through Berlin. All along the former path of the Berlin Wall, illuminated balloons have been put up as a visual reminder that this vibrating city was once divided, sometimes right through a busy intersection.
Moritz van Dülmen, who recreated pieces of the Wall out of styrofoam for the 20th anniversary in 2009 and city-wide Domino campaign said: “We wanted people to really comprehend what happened back then. Like a domino-effect, the opening of the Wall changed the world.”
But Berlin resident Karima Wenner says that you can still tell East and West apart – at least in the capital.
“The way they talk about each other and still use stereotypes is very apparent.”
However, 28-year-old Karima claims that you can even see and feel it in Berlin’s entire cityscape.
“The eastern part of Berlin has this trendy vibe to it, even more so than West Berlin. Sub cultures thrive there, probably because they had a lot to catch up on. And they still have events and spontaneous street festivals everywhere, that make the East a really cool place to be.”
And then there are the Plattenbausiedlungen, of course, the high-rise blocks of flats that still dominate East Berlin’s landscape.