Chapter 2
Berlin-Alexanderplatz - Live on GDR-TV

Alexanderplatz Demonstration, Berlin, November 4, 1989
Alexanderplatz Demonstration, Berlin, November 4, 1989 | Photo: Thomas Wiesenack ©

"It's as if someone had thrown open the windows," says author Stefan Heym, thus capturing the mood of the 500,000 who, on November 4 at Berlin's Alexanderplatz, are calling on the GDR leadership to reorient itself politically. 

By Regine Hader and Dr. Andreas Ludwig

The artists of various East Berlin theatres are calling for this demonstration, waiting for the demonstrators. Meanwhile, people stand close together in the underground corridors - sandwiched between their knees: their banners still rolled up and their posters held downwards. As in the weeks before in Leipzig and elsewhere, they are imaginative, ironic and express the widest variety of political demands for a reform of socialism in the GDR. With slogans like "Mit dem Gesicht zum Volk" ("With your face to the people") and "130000 Stasiknechte haben keine Sonderrechte" ("130000 Stasi yes-mens have no special rights"), the demonstrators address the GDR leadership directly. During the first approved demonstration critical of the regime, the citizens recapture the street - and the state permits this action. Freedom and change cast a spell over the people. More than 20 speakers, including official representatives of GDR policies, analyse the situation of their country and make their demands. It's quiet: Probably demonstrators in the GDR have never listened so attentively to a rally.

Alexanderplatz Demonstration in Berlin on November 4, 1989
Alexanderplatz Demonstration in Berlin on November 4, 1989 | Photo: Merit Schambach ©
This critical thinking reverberates beyond the square to the Republic's fold-out sofas: GDR television is broadcasting live, thus demonstrating the government's willingness to engage in dialogue. We do not know whether this dialogue would have taken place in the end and whether the GDR would have developed into a democratic country, because five days later the Berlin Wall fell. The internal demand for reforms was now under pressure from the open border. While hundreds of thousands went to the West, the GDR dissolved from within.

Demonstration in Berlin on 4 November 1989
Demonstration in Berlin on 4 November 1989 | Photo: Hubert Link © Bundesarchiv / Wikimedia
Just how conscious they are of the political and historical worth of their actions is shown by a group in the midst of the crowd: at the end of the rally, they collect the posters and deposit them in front of the Museum für Deutsche Geschichte, the GDR's official historical museum.

Read on in chapter 4