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Осінь 1989
Це були не банани

On the border: Berlin, 10 November 1989, Brandenburg Gate
On the border: Berlin, 10 November 1989, Brandenburg Gate | Photo (detail): Jürgen Lottenburger © wir-waren-so-frei.de

Коли осінь золотила листя по обидва боки Берлінського муру, в НДР почалась мирна революція. Через рік Німеччина знову стала єдиною країною. Це відомі факти - але як відчувалась осінь 1989 року? Про понеділкові демонстрації та продаж порцій Стіни туристам.

Read a new chapter of history every day!

On the traffic signs‘ absurdity

Tram tracks that run nowhere Tram tracks that run nowhere | Photo: © Andreas Ludwig A resident parks her car in the middle of a Kreuzberger street and walks to her flat on the last few centimeters of West Berlin. What sort of traffic could hinder her here? She passes through the narrow passage between the front of the house and the wall. The VW-Beetle defies the absurdity of the Wall, as if it had suddenly placed itself in the car’s way during the drive. Next to it: streetcar tracks that end up nowhere, like a broken connection into a world behind graffiti and concrete. What this Kreuzberg idyll does not show are the more than 130 people who were shot while fleeing along this border.

The Wall has enclosed West Berlin since 13 August 1961, sometimes separating even from odd house numbers on the right and left sides of the street. The photo shows how it crosses the Berliners’ streets, how close it gets to their windows and how of necessity they live with it.

The border as a canvas The border as a canvas | Photo: © Andreas Ludwig In contrast, West Berliners spray-paint the Wall, appropriating the border as a canvas. With their graffiti, they comment ironically on the West Berlin lifestyle - directly on the grey concrete that divides the city.
Four-language signboards lie fallen over in the snow along the Wall. They warn about the freedom or the danger of crossing the border. A few steps further it is clear that no crossing is possible here anyway. At this spot in Kreuzberg it says: "You are Leaving the American Sector". On the East Berlin side, a desolate restricted area runs along the Wall, keeping its own population away from the "peace border".

Revolution and candles

Demonstration in Wittenberge on 15 January 1990 Demonstration in Wittenberge on 15 January 1990 | Photo: Horst Podiebrad © wir-waren-so-frei.de "In any case, it wasn't the lack of bananas that got us onto the streets, but this constant feeling of fear and that we wanted to finally express our opinion freely," recalls Katharina Steinhäuser from Jena.

The people address their cries "We are the people" directly to the SED and the state leaders. On the seventh of every month, demonstrators march through the streets to denounce the "overwhelming approval" of 98.85 percent of the SED's policies in the fake May 7, 1989 local elections.

Every Monday after the prayers for peace in the churches of East Germany it becomes clearer that these numbers do not express the actual mood in the country. At the Monday demonstrations, citizens are demonstrating against the regime”.  At first the mood is still tense and anxious", describes the contemporary witness, who herself was present in Jena - after all, all those present know exactly how the state deals with regime critics if there is any question. She describes this feeling as the fundamental tenor of the GDR: a humming or background noise of fear running in the background for years. "Of course, we were once happy, newly in love and young. But we were supposed to be shouting “Hurrah” all the time - and even that could be wrong. I remember a huge hopelessness"."Permanent, diffuse insecurity and fear of doing something wrong, of being imprisoned without rights and of being at the mercy of the state" clung to everyday situations and weapons. Katharina Steinhäuser remembers her first demonstration: "When I heard that thousands of people were demonstrating in Leipzig, I felt incredibly encouraged. I thought: Now you can no longer stand aside. Knowing how many there were already were gave us courage".

There’s an upbeat mood as they stand close by each other, dart off and light each other's candles. Although they are all too aware of the brutal attacks on demonstrators in the past, the consequences for their careers and their own lives, the demonstrators feel not only courage but also relief. After a "long period of depression", every shared step on the street feels like freedom. "Just demonstrating against the regime was a sudden change, to say: Here we go! We just plain won't keep quiet about anything that weighs us down any longer”.

Original banners of the Peaceful Revolution Original banners of the Peaceful Revolution | Photo: Bernd Schmidt © wir-waren-so-frei.de The citizens of Leipzig are protesting two days after the brutally suppressed protests on the occasion of the 40th anniversary celebration in Berlin. "No violence", demand six prominent Leipzig citizens of the SED functionaries and actually achieve that the police present, the military and the "working class combat groups" remain passive. The 300,000 demonstrators finally circumnavigate the entire city centre of Leipzig on the Ringstrasse - a turning point.

Journalist Siegbert Schefke is covertly filming. His video is smuggled into West Germany, broadcast on West German television - and spreads the news of the peaceful revolution.

Call of the GDR opposition New Forum Call of the GDR opposition New Forum | Photo: © Documentation Centre for Everyday Culture in the GDR How does the opposition actually go about organising these protests? Someone secretly passes on a piece of paper, someone else hurries to copy it, the words on the calculating boxes look "innocent", almost like a transcript from school lessons - but in fact they are deeply political. With these loose sheets of paper the call of the new forum spreads within a few days. For the first time in the history of the GDR, opposition members seek official approval as a political group. These are the hours of repositioning - in a few days thousands of citizens will sign the initiative.

Berlin Alexanderplatz – live on GDR-TV

Alexanderplatz Demonstration, Berlin, November 4, 1989 Alexanderplatz Demonstration, Berlin, November 4, 1989 | Photo: Thomas Wiesenack © wir-waren-so-frei.de  "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. 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 © wir-waren-so-frei.de 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.