Home' Greymouth Star : November 8th 2014 Contents H
e might not agree with
the label, but Harald
Jaeger is the man
credited with opening
the Berlin Wall.
“It’s not me who
opened the wall. It ’s the East German
citizens who gathered that evening,” Jaeger
Nevertheless the former East German
border guard — and, at the time, loyal
follower of the embattled communist
regime — has gone down in history as the
man who, literally, did just that.
Amid total confusion and without
clear orders from on high, Jaeger made
the snap decision to open the barrier at
the Bornholmer Strasse border crossing
between East and West Berlin on the
night of November 9, 1989.
Euphoric East Germans, who had
massed there through the cold evening,
flooded into the West, peacefully bringing
down the Iron Curtain after 28 years of
Berlin’s division by the iconic symbol of
the Cold War.
Twenty-five years later, Jaeger, now 71,
still recalls the disbelief he felt hearing
the words that drew the crowd in the first
Out of the blue, a communist official had
declared on tv that East Germans could
now travel abroad “immediately, without
“I almost choked on my bread roll,” he
said in an inter view.
“I didn’t believe my ears and said to
myself: ‘But what stupidity has just been
The lieutenant colonel, who was also
attached to the Stasi secret police, had
worked for the East German border police
for 28 years, and was the deputy chief at
the Bornholmer Strasse crossing in the
north of East Berlin.
The East German protest movement
had been snowballing for weeks, and the
border posts were on alert.
But Jaeger said that nothing on that day,
November 9, had pointed to the fact that
history would be made that night.
He had anticipated a normal shift, taking
over responsibility for 14 officers from
6pm local time, when his boss knocked off
and went home.
At the canteen, however, where Jaeger
was eating dinner, things quickly changed
when he watched the TV coverage of the
unexpected and apparently unscripted
announcement giving the green light for
travel to the West.
He rushed back to his post, he said,
where colleagues were at first sceptical,
thinking he’d been mistaken, and so
he telephoned his superior hoping for
“ You’re calling because of such a stupid
thing?” his boss grumbled down the line,
instructing Jaeger to simply send the
citizens home if they did not have the
necessary travel authorisation to cross the
The trickle of curious East Germans
congregating outside his office window
gradually grew bigger, and people began
shouting “Let us leave!”.
In a panic, Jaeger rang his boss back.
But he recalls being told by his superior:
“ I have no order from above. I have no
instructions to give you. ”
The crowd kept swelling and by about
9pm, the access road to the border crossing
was blocked by the mass of people.
Jaeger picked up the phone again and
shouted down the line: “ We have to do
Jaeger then received orders to identify
the most agitated members of the crowd
and let them alone cross into the West, in
the hope that this would calm the mass of
“ But that had the opposite effect. The
crowd became increasingly agitated,”
Jaeger said, recalling his fear of a stampede
in which citizens would be crushed.
“That ’s when I said to myself: ‘Now it’s
for you to act. Whatever happens, we have
to let the East German citizens cross the
border’,” he said.
At about 11.30pm, he gave the fateful
order. “Open the barrier!”
Initially, his men stood glued to the spot,
dumbfounded, and so he repeated his
Even 25 years on, recounting the tale
from the sofa in his small two-room
apartment in a village north of Berlin, he
becomes emotional as he remembers the
white and red barrier being opened.
“ I had never seen such euphoria, and I’ve
never seen it since,” Jaeger said, smiling.
But he was quick to add that the credit
goes to the power of the people who had
gathered that night.
“The only thing I can be credited with is
that it happened without any blood being
At dawn on November 10, when his shift
finally ended, Jaeger said he rang his sister.
“ It ’s me who opened the border last
night,” he told her.
“ You did well,” she replied. — AFP
In China, the Communists had just
massacred the students in Tienanmen
Square and won themselves another
quarter-century in power.
On the other hand, the Poles voted
over whelmingly for solidarity in June, and
by September Hungary had opened its
border with the West. But it was the fall
of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989,
that really opened the flood-gates.
I had been spending a lot of time in
the old Soviet Union since 1987, when I
visited Moscow after a five-year absence
and found the place unrecognisable.
People had lost their fear — in the
kitchens, and sometimes in the streets,
they were saying what they really
thought. It was the first time I had gone
to Russia without feeling that I had left
So I went home and told my friendly
neighbourhood network that something
very big was going to happen. I did not
know exactly what, but if they gave me
a travel budget I would spend a couple
of weeks in the Soviet bloc inter viewing
people every three months, and when the
big thing happened I would give them an
instant radio series on it. Networks had
more money and more ner ve in those
days, so they said yes.
By 1989 I had kind of worked out what
was going to happen, but I did not know
if it could all be done non-violently. The
signs were good — I had spent much
of the summer in the Soviet Union,
and the first big demos had already
happened peacefully in Moscow — but
where and when the dam would finally
break was still anybody’s guess. Then in
early September I flew from Moscow to
Hungary for a quick look around on my
On the way in to Budapest from the
airport, the streets were full of abandoned
East German cars, mostly pathetic Trabis
that any sensible person would abandon.
But still ...
The taxi driver explained that Hungary
had opened its border with Austria. East
Germans were coming down in droves
across the “fraternal” Communist country
of Czechoslovakia (no visa needed), to
travel onwards to Austria and then to
west Germany. So I had the taxi take me
up to the Young Pioneer camp in the hills
behind Buda that was ser ving as a transit
Every few minutes a taxi would pull up
and East Germans — usually a young
couple — would get out. Every hour
an enormous coach would drive up and
take them all off to the West. And after
an hour or so inter viewing them as they
arrived at the gate, I knew what was
going to happen next.
They did not see themselves as
refugees fleeing to start a new life in
the West. They were taking advantage
of an opportunity to see the West, and
they would be safe there if things went
badly wrong in East Germany, but most
fully expected to be home again, in a
democratic East Germany, within a year.
When I got on the plane home,
I started writing a piece in which I
compared East Germany’s Communist
regime to a Walt Disney character who
had run off a cliff — but wouldn’t actually
start to fall until he looked down. And as
soon as we landed, I booked a ticket back
to Berlin for late October. I was just in
time for a great party.
What astonished everyone was the way
the old system just rolled over and died.
This amazing new technique of non-
violent revolution had been working well
in Asia since 1986 — the Philippines,
Thailand, South Korea, Bangladesh —
but taking down a Communist regime
seemed like a much more dangerous
and doubtful enterprise, especially after
The party was so great because most
people were enormously relieved that it
had been so easy. They were fed up to the
back teeth with the petty-minded, boring
Communist bullies who dominated their
lives, and they were sick of being poor,
but nobody wanted to die in an old-
fashioned revolution. Yet the Communist
ideology obliged the believers to launch
a civil war rather than surrender power
So when it turned out that non-violence
worked even against Communists, at
least in Europe, people quite rightly felt
that they had been very lucky. And as a
bonus, the threat of a nuclear World War
Three went away. The old Nato alliance
still trundles on a quarter-century later,
picking up work wherever it can, but
it has become the sound of one hand
There were some problems later on
in places like Romania and Russia, but
it was a radical, amazingly peaceful
revolution in a part of the world that was
not best known for its ability to change
peacefully. So once the celebrations died
down in Berlin I rented a car and drove
off to Warsaw to see how the new post-
Communist government was doing in
I parked outside a government ministry
right on Nowy Swiat, and while I
was inside inter viewing the minister
somebody broke into my car and stole
my bag, including all the inter view tapes
from Berlin and the piece of the Wall I
was bringing home to my daughter. The
soldiers who were marching back and
forth inside the fence saw it happen, but
pointed out that stopping thieves was not
So I reported the theft to the police
for insurance purposes, and explained
to them that if they spotted a well-
dressed man who was limping badly, it
was probably the thief. The stolen bag
contained the suit I wore for inter viewing
presidents, but I had mistakenly packed
two left dress shoes with it. They didn’t
laugh — they had been trained by the
Communists, after all — so I drove off
down to Prague for the next revolution.
Gwynne Dyer is an independent
journalist whose articles are published in
4 - Saturday, November 8, 2014
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uLetters to the editor
1576 - Under the Pacification of Ghent, all
17 provinces of Netherlands are united against
Spain in Dutch War of Liberation.
1793 - Louvre Museum in Paris opens to
1923 - Adolf Hitler stages unsuccessful coup
in Munich that comes to be known as the
1942 - Allied forces begin
landings in north Africa, beginning
the Algeria-Morocco Campaign of
World War Two.
1960 - John F Kennedy elected
1966 - Italian city of Florence
appeals to world to help save art treasures
damaged by floods.
1986 - Death of Vyacheslav M Molotov,
one-time aide to Joseph Stalin, aged 96.
1990 - US President George Bush orders
200,000 more US troops to the Persian Gulf in
preparation for an attack on Iraq.
2008 - The centre-left New Zealand
Government of Helen Clark and the Labour
Party lose the NZ national elections.
uWest Coast yesteryear
uToday in history
John Milton, English poet (1608-1674);
King Edward VII (1841-1910); Hermann
Rorschach, Swiss psychiatrist (1884-1922);
Jean Monnet, French political
economist and diplomat (1888-
1979); Margaret Mitchell, US
author of Gone With The Wind
(1900-1949); Patti Page, US singer
(1927-2013); Alain Delon, French
actor (1935-); Christie Hefner,
Playboy Enterprises chair woman
and CEO (1952-); Alfre Woodard,
US actress (1953-); Leif Garrett, US singer-
actor (1961-); Gordon Ramsay, British chef
and TV personality (1966-); Tara Reid, US
actress (1975-); Brett Lee, Australian cricketer
(1976-); Lynndie England, controversial US
soldier (1982-) .
“Man is born to live, not to prepare for life.”
— Boris Pasternak, Russian author (1890-1960).
“ To do what is right and just is more
acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.”
— Proverbs 21:3.
light of the press
and the power of
mass advertising are
sometimes placed in doubt. There are seven
Coasters, however, who have no doubt about
the power of half a dozen words, a touch of
printer’s ink and a tiny spot on the back page
of the Greymouth Evening Star.
One day this week, these seven people, in two,
three and four lines advertised cots, cars, cycles,
prams and bassinets. One of them lost a purse
with bus and rail tickets within. Five of them
arranged to advertise for two days, two of them
for three days. All of them cancelled their ad
after the one insertion.
All of them are now true believers that the
pen (or ad) is mighty good for the pocket.
Tiny tots start toilet training early, but for
one Greymouth Tokyo tripper toilet training
began in her twenties. When pretty Maureen
Kennedy went to use a Japanese bath, she was
confronted by a completely strange object.
The toilet was in the same category. Ablution
demonstrations were necessary. The incident
evoked laughter from Maureen as she recalled
it to a Greymouth Star reporter this morning.
Tired, hoarse but happy, Maureen arrived
in New Zealand yesterday aboard the Oriana
following a two-month cruise of the Orient.
For Maureen and the 40 other West Coasters
on the ship a visit to the Tokyo Olympic
Games was the highlight of the trip.
The Coast tripper could not find words to
describe the “wonderful” Japanese. “ Wherever
we went there were always people ready to help
us. They just couldn’t do enough.”
uFood for thought
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There is a clock at the University of
Chicago called the Doomsday Clock
whose time perpetually lingers just shy of
On this clock, midnight metaphorically
represents full nuclear war bringing an
end to all civilisation, and the clock is
meant as a gauge to constantly indicate
humankind’s proximity to this horrific
When it was introduced in 1947, it was
set for seven minutes to midnight. Since
that day, its minute hand has wandered
around on the upper-left quarter of the
According to Wikipedia, the clock,
which hangs on a wall in a bulletin’s
office in the University of Chicago,
represented an analogy for the threat of
global nuclear war; however, since 2007
it has also reflected climate change and
new developments in the life sciences and
technology that could inflict irrevocable
harm to humanity. The most recent
officially announced setting — 11:55pm
— was made on January 14,2013.
If you read your newspaper or listen to
the radio or TV there is no good news,
Humanity is on a destruct mode. The
Bible which many wise (secular) people
say is unreliable and God who doesn’t
exist can’t help, actually tells of distress of
nations. Romans 1:22 says: “Professing
themselves to be wise, they became fools.”
Why do we have people in Christchurch
and Auckland that have no house to live
in? Why do we have children that go to
Our politicians, who lack for nothing
(recent new laws stripping workers’ rights)
talk a lot but do nothing.
James 5:4 says of the rich: “For listen!
Hear the cries of the field workers whom
you have cheated of their pay. The wages
you held back cry out against you. The
cries of those who har vest your fields have
reached the ears of the Lord of Heaven’s
Greymouth Seventh Day Adventist
What time is it?
WORLD IN FOCUS
with Gwynne Dyer
The Berlin Wall
25 years later
A German swings a sledge hammer at the Berlin Wall in 1989.
An east Berlin citizen embraces a west Berlin woman while an East German border soldier watches at the border checkpoint Invalidenstrasse after the opening of the East
German border was announced on November 10, 1989.
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