kohl1_Patrick-Hertzog_AFP_Getty-Images_berlin-wall Patrick Hertzog/AFP/Getty Images

The Fall of the Wall Revisited

To commemorate its founding 25 years ago, PS will be republishing over the coming months a selection of commentaries written since 1994. In the following commentary from 1999, Helmut Kohl offers his reflections on the tenth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall – and pays tribute to the “singular courage” of former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

BERLIN – I learned that the Berlin Wall was falling during an official visit to Poland ten years ago. On the evening of November 9, Polish Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki invited my delegation to a banquet in the former palace of Prince Radziwill. Before we arrived at dinner, the Secretary of the Chancellery, Rudolf Seiters, called from Bonn. He told me that the district chairman of communist East Berlin had suddenly announced temporary regulations permitting travel by private citizens. Permits to visit the West were to be granted to all applicants, even on short notice.

With that simple decision, I knew that German history would soon change, for easier travel meant that the Wall was passable for everyone. Still, at first I did not foresee those spectacular and joyous night-time celebrations that were about to take place in Berlin.

Throughout my career I never doubted that Germany would one day regain its unity sometime in the future. But I never dared to dream that reunion of East and West would happen during my term as chancellor. Only with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and his policies of perestroika and glasnost did reunification become a real possibility. Without Gorbachev and his singular courage, the stream of events across Europe during the fall of 1989 never would have been possible.

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