A former East German Berlin Wall border guard officer has revealed how he went against orders to open the gates that led to the collapse of communism.
Harald Jaeger – now 79 – was deputy chief of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) border checkpoint at Bornholmer Strasse in East Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg district in 1989.
The nation’s leaders had just announced an end to a ban on travelling to the West but when he called his bosses, Jaeger revealed they first tried desperately to hold back the human tide.
Now Jaeger has told German media his very down-to-earth reaction to the chaos.
He revealed: “No one told me what to do, so I eventually said to myself: ‘Kiss my a*se, I’ll do what I think is right.”
Reflecting on the night of 9th November 1989, he told German newspaper Bild: “I’m glad things have happened the way they did.
“It feels satisfying to me. I’m proud of having contributed my small share.”
Jaeger rang his superior to find out what to do as the masses started to gather at the border following the infamous press statement by GDR government spokesman Guenter Schabowski that evening.
Schabowski told a room packed with reporters from all over the world that East German citizens could apply for permission to travel abroad without having to meet the previous strict bureaucratic requirements ‘immediately, without delay.’
Jaeger told Bild: “I was in the middle of my dinner break at the checkpoint canteen when Schabowski made that claim.
“I immediately got up to ring my superior, Colonel Ziegenhorn, to find out how to proceed.
“He shouted back: ‘Why are you calling me up because of that nonsense? Schabowski surely got something wrong there’.”
GDR board officials at first decided to let only the most defiant individuals pass.
But the measure failed to calm down the situation as GDR citizens kept flocking to the various checkpoints.
At around 11pm, Jaeger eventually told officers to lift the barrier and hundreds of GDR citizens flooded through.
Officers at other checkpoints all over Berlin followed his example.
The events of that night are seen as a pivotal step towards the collapse of communism, German reunification less than a year later and further democratic developments across Eastern Europe.
Jaeger claims: “That night, there was just one option: lifting the gate and letting GDR citizens pass.”
He admitted: “I’ve learned more in the space of four hours that decisive evening than I’ve learned during the 40 years leading up to it.
“We made lots of political mistakes. Human rights were completely ignored. We kept people from travelling, we dispossessed them, we locked them away.”
Jaeger – who had joined the GDR border authority at the age of 18 – told Bild he was relieved no violence had occurred on that historic night.
The father of three said: “I don’t even want to think about what would have happened to the citizens of East Germany but also to the border guards if things had gotten out of control.”
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Story By: Thomas Hochwarter, Sub-Editor: Joe Golder, Agency: Newsflash
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