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The Fall of the Wall Revisited

BERLIN: I learned that the Berlin Wall was falling during an official visit to Poland ten years ago. On the evening of November 9th, Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki invited my delegation to a banquet in the former palace of Prince Radziwill. Before arriving 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 some time in the future. But I never dared to dream that reunion of east and west would happen during my term as Chancellor. Only with 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 fall of 1989 never would have been possible.

For with Gorbachev's ascendance, more and more people in East Germany took heart and stopped being afraid of their repressive regime. They realized that the realities of East Germany were not fixed in stone after all; that it was possible to achieve change, which many brave dissidents and proponents of civil rights trapped behind the wall had demanded for so long a time. Their commitment against the injustice of the communist regime is for me one of the best chapters in German history.