On 9 November 1989 East German border posts were opened, allowing citizens of the German Democratic Republic (DDR) to travel. The Berlin Wall had fallen.
In 2014 commemorations will be held in the German capital to mark a quarter of a century since that momentous event.
“I was in Görlitz [Germany’s easterly most city],” says Manja Grosche, recalling the 9 November 1989.
“We suspected something was up, but were sceptical it might mean war or be dangerous.”
“There had been trains taking people from Germany to Czechoslovakia and things had reached a boiling point. We noticed that, though we didn’t have Western TV. We had limited information but everyone knew that something was happening. There was a tension, an expectation; something was about to happen,” says the quality control manager who now lives in Lisbon.
“That suddenly it meant the wall had fallen and that the events were transmitted on TV was simply unbelievable. We hadn’t expected it. We thought it would guarantee war or a shootout. That they let it happen just like that!” she says in a tone of voice emphasising the disbelief of 1989.
“There had been protests in Leipzig and also the trains. Maybe the tension had been building for half a year. Even when we were celebrating the 40th birthday of the DDR we knew something would happen, somehow. We knew the economy was shot and that the government wasn’t stable. There was a fear it would endure forever or that the government wouldn’t simply take it and would defend itself.”
“I was in Berlin for the 40th birthday celebrations,” says Grosche, about events held on 7 October 1989. “We hadn’t noticed tensions there. It was lovely; a lot of fun. It was a big celebration and well organised. I can’t really remember details, but for me it was a big party; it didn’t have so much to do with the DDR’s 40th birthday,” she tells.
“I was with the FDJ [the Free German Youth movement] and it was an accolade to be there. We marched and then went to concerts. Taking part was a mark of recognition for those who were politically active or good in school. I was dedicated at school.”
So how does she perceive the fall of the wall now?
“It was a positive event. That the DDR was in decline and that there was more out there in the world, we knew that.”
“None of my friends were revolutionaries. I was 17; too young to run away. Directly after the wall fell we had big discussions in school and then soon travelled to Berlin. We used to have school on Saturdays and the positive thing was that came to an end, so we used a weekend to get away,” recalls Grosche.
“It was overwhelming. It was a different world. West Berlin was simply different. We went shopping at KaDeWe and along Ku’damm. The people were friendly,” she answers when I ask about that initial trip into the West.
“As a girl I’d always wanted to travel. For me it meant more opportunities to travel. It brought a different consumer world and opportunities for me to develop. In the DDR things were largely predetermined. It meant a different career and opportunities to voice our opinions. It was clear that the economy was on its knees and my father soon moved to Munich,” says Grosche, on what the events of 9 November 1989 meant for her.
“Görlitz is a beautiful city today. It’s changed a lot since the fall of the wall. It was dirty, ugly and people were given work. Some people suffered afterwards. The East-West divide still exists today, in how people think. People weren’t allowed to think for themselves for decades; for a generation and more. There are still differences that haven’t been fully resolved. I don’t really feel like an East German any more. People in Munich are surprised when I say I’m from Görlitz,” she says when I ask about the impact on her home town.
“For me the 25 year celebrations have real meaning. I’m happy the wall fell; it brought me opportunities and it’s certainly an occasion to fly to Berlin,” she says.
Where to go
Visit the 1.3km long East Side Gallery (Műhlenstrasse), the longest remaining section of the Berlin Wall. Panels on the wall have been painted by international artists.
Find out about the construction and history of the infamous obstacle at the Berlin Wall Memorial (Bernauer Strasse 119).
Read the stories of victims who died trying to enter West Berlin in the book of remembrance at the Berlin Wall Memorial in the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament building.
Learn more about what was behind the wall by visiting the Berlin-Hohenschönhausen Memorial (Genslerstrasse 66), a prison used from 1951 until the end of 1989 to detain and interrogate people by the Stasi, the German Democratic Republic’s secret police. From March to October English language tours are held daily at 2.30pm, and on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays throughout the rest of the year.
Where to sleep
Staying at nhow Berlin design hotel (Stralauer Allee 3, tel. +40 (0) 2902990) places you a two-minute walk from East Side Gallery. The chic hotel, by the River Spree, has electric guitars and DJ-decks for use in your room.
What to eat
Berlin’s most popular snack is Currywurst mit Pommes, sausage served with curry sauce and French fries. This dish is available from kiosks across the city, including Curry 36 (Mehringdamm 36).
What to buy
Take home a piece of the Berlin Wall from Wall House Berlin (Mühlenstrasse 73), where Gerd Glanze sells souvenir pieces of the infamous barrier.
How to get here
British Airways flies to Berlin from its London Heathrow Terminal 5 hub. See the BA website for information on fares and flight times.
Find out about attractions in Berlin and Germany on the Germany Travel website.