Economic Policy Review ISSN 1313 - 0544

Personal Impressions of the Collapse of the Berlin Wall (Excerpt from a Diary On the Occasion of the World Freedom Day)

Author: Krassen Stanchev / 26.01.2007
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Obviously, in 1989 nobody knew that fifteen years later many would propose celebrating November 9 as World Freedom Day. But I was simply lucky, perhaps to be in Sofia on November 10 when then still ruling communists kicked out their leader, Mr. Zhivkov, and on the very next day – in Berlin. Here is a selection of what I wrote in my notebook.

10 November 1989 ( Friday )

Morning, on the downtown corner of Rakowski Str. and Tzar Osvoboditel [King Liberator] Blvd., (1) waking with Roumen Dimitrov, a political scientist (now an emigrant in Australia), we were interview for then the only political talk show Panorama, to be broadcasted next evening on First Program of the government TV Station. They promised to air 30 seconds.

The question: What is to be expected after the yesterday changes?

My answer took about 10 seconds, I said: “Not before too long, perhaps in a month, opposition groupings and parties will emerge; the life will be very different.” Roumen talked about five minutes, about reformed communist party. Next day I left for GDR, after instructing my wife to carefully watch Panorama. They showed Roumen's talk, not mine as I learnt later.

11 November (Saturday)

Around noon

We, Roumen Dimitrov and I, arrived in East Berlin, invited to participate in a seminar on What is Going on in Eastern Europe by Dr. Michael Brie, then a GDR-dissident - now No 2 in the ex-Communist Party of the Democratic Socialism. We were supposed to speak in Russian, my notes for the talk are titled for some reason in German ”Zur Frage der sozialen Wuerzeln der Wirtschatsreformen ” [On the issue of the societal roots of economic reforms] . These notes are not finished.

Afternoon

Under the suggestion of non-Germans we decided to reschedule the seminar for the evening and immediately visit the West Berlin. For foreigners there was only one border crossing, on Friedrichstrasse, the famous Check Point Charlie ). All participants left, except Brie, for West Berlin. We crossed the Wall individually, at different points, none of us wanted to go there as a group. I do not know why …

First impressions

•  Everybody is very serious before crossing the border and smiling on the other side .

•  Somebody told me that the public transport in West Berlin is free for Easterners : on November 10 the city authorities realized that it is too expensive and that is why from 11 th it was allowed that all East Europeans (not only Germans) ride free. First impression from the underground train: when entering a coach, East Germans pull out their blue passports and show it to the public. (I was doing the same with my yellow-green Bulgaria pass.

•  On the Eastern side of the Wall , there was no public celebration ; it was going day and night in the West. It seems that the most popular advertisement is “TRY WEST”, written in Russian: POPROBUIY WEST (“West” is a Reestma cigarette label) and it is virtually everywhere. I did know that is painted and covered by graffiti on the West side. On the East I remembered it as always white, like feta-cheese. It was absolutely frustrating to destroy it from the East; it happened on West, I did not saw any person even approaching the Wall from the East.

•  From Friedrichstrasse I took the metro to Kurfursterdamm , someone told me it was where the crowd is . At the exit from the U-Bahn there was a huge, enormous sign: “ Earrings ” . The shop was big that I did not trust my eyes and looked in my pocket vocabulary what the sign meant in German; naturally, it was “ earrings ”.

•  Occasionally all people were covering their noses with a hand or a scarf; it is a sign that an extremely polluting East German, Trabant or Wartburg is somewhere around. I was surprised that I was rarely noticing that extremely unpleasant smell in Sofia or on the East side of the border.

•  The seminar , today we would call it brainstorming , started at 6:30 p . m . in East Berlin.

 

12 November , Sunday

The same arrangement remains , session starts at 5:30 p . m .; until then everyone except Brie is in the West.

•  In the S-Bahn I read free newspapers distributed by the mayor of West Berlin; in all of them there is a map and tons of very useful information. Including the one that there are water closet containers usable without pay. Also, there are announcements about conferences and street rallies scheduled for the next week. Here are two of the topics I obviously found interesting: “Future Prospects of the Freedom Movement” and “The Role of Berlin in the Common European Home”. I have no notes about the locations …

•  Most fascinating are the slogans and the graffiti , many of them fresh , with white paint . One of them is on the roof of an old house Friedrichstrasse: ” Welcome to Freedom! Revolution Continues ! ” Another good one is: “ Fair Elections Now! ”or “ Free the Free University of Berlin! ” On one pickup truck, from which two African Berliners give free hot tea (otherwise it cost 2 Deutsche Marks, I have only 20 for the entire stay), there is a slogan: “Foreigners! Red Front Now !” . I was a foreigner after all, and hesitated whether to take a tea if I do not like the slogan.

•  A senior age American is trying to break piece off the Wall with small hammer people use to fix windows with. We found some iron stick and managed to get two concrete pieces from the Wall, one for her, the other one for me.

1 3 November , Monday

•  The brainstorming started again in the evening. I spent most the day trying to make donation to the library of the Free University of Berlin, a full collection of Bulgaria Samizdat we, my wife and I were carefully collecting for two years (1988-1989). (Since I could carry it, it is obvious that the collection was not very heavy.) That donation was a painful experience: the oldish portiere found the idea not very attractive, I believed I spoke decent German but he understood a little and was not much willing to help; eventually he called someone and I waited for 45 minutes; the librarian (?) asked me to fill some document and to compile of the items, which I wrote with pleasure; than I waited for another hour the clerk did not show up and I left the treasure with the portiere. On the main university building there was a slogan: “ Marry Christmas! We Keep on Striking ! ” Few years ago I check the Internet catalogue of the university, my donation was not there.

•  In the tram back to Friedrichstrasse I took a note of the following poetry (in German) from a poste:

We fought against the Wall,

Now the Wall is only a Museum.

Here was the Post War Berlin's history written;

This was just the beginning,

Now every step forward is towards Europe united .

We would stay for values we for now believed.

It was undersigned by a gentleman with a German family name from New York, sent to the (West) Berlin mayor on November 10, 1989.

 

November 9, 2005

PS: After I returned back to Sofia, I tried to publish my notes in the Bulgarian press. Without any success, for about three months . Eventually, a satiric and comic newspaper published small and most funny excerpts. One of the editors liked them, now he is a successful publisher.

 

 

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(1) Then the official name was Ruski [“Russian”] Blvd., but Sofia slang used name this Boulevard “The Tzar”.