By: L. Pereira
Back in 1961 the Berlin wall was built. 28 years later, in November 1989 it fell. It was built during the cold war and divided the city of Berlin into two physically and ideologically contrasting zones. It fell because of an unprepared, tired German bureaucrat who didn’t read the official government press release before going on camera.
Gunter Schabowski, a German bureaucrat from east Germany, was supposed to announce new travel being allowed outside of East Germany. This would be permitted a few days from the announcement, but for it to be viable the civilian looking to travel would have to ask for a travel visa before being permitted across the border. This was to be announced on live government television.
Allegedly, the bureaucrat was tired and hurried into the press conference, not given the chance to read the official press release before being on live television. He was simply handed the paper containing the announcement by an aid, which he simply read on camera.
However, he was unprepared, tired, and rushed. Schabowski was able to read the first part of the release, which stated "the government now authorizes travel freedom" on live TV. A reporter then asked, "so when does this take effect?" He had not had the chance to properly analyze the document about the travel limits and visa requirements beforehand, which caused Schabowski to just mumble "as far as I know...right away."
This led to thousands of eastern Germans massing at the Wall and border checkpoints. People got angrier and angrier as they were refused passage unaware of what was going on and feeling betrayed by the false news and promises. Finally, to avoid a riot or getting hurt themselves, one guard allowed some people through. This led to a chain reaction, and ultimately, the abolishment of the Berlin Wall.
A wall built to prevent civilians from escaping Soviet-controlled eastern Berlin into western Berlin was destroyed because of an unready bureaucrat. A mistake made on live television sped up the process of reaching unity in a city and allowed for greater freedom against the Soviet hold on the world.