My Vivid Memories of the Fall of the Berlin Wall
On this 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, I’m posting a section from Chapter 3 of my book The Joy of Freedom: An Economist’s Odyssey. The chapter is titled “We Won, But. . . .”
I am inserting something that’s not in the text of my book because in going through my belongings shortly after retiring, I found a diary I had kept of interactions with my daughter. So the inserted part is from a November 1989 entry and I had forgotten it when writing the book in 2000.
Here’s the excerpt:
November 9, 1989, East Berlin
Gunter Schabowski, the head of the Communist Party of Berlin, is about to go on television for a live press conference. Egon Krenz, Party secretary and leader of East Berlin, hands him a draft of a new regulation from the Interior Ministry. The draft describes new procedures for obtaining visas to visit the West. Minutes later, in reply to an Italian journalist, he seems to say that East Germans can go to the West with no restrictions, starting right now. Immediately, thousands of East Germans head to the Wall, some of them dressed in their pajamas. For three hours the crowd swells in front of the hated Wall. They refuse to move, and they chant, “Open the gate! Open the gate!” The guards, unsure what to do, decide to open the gates. Hundreds of thousands of East Berliners swarm through into the welcoming arms of their West German brothers and sisters. The invincible Wall has fallen—without a shot being fired.
A few days later, I was lying on the floor, looking at the latest Newsweek with my 4-year-old daughter Karen. I showed her the famous picture from about 25 years earlier of the armed East German guard [see picture above] who himself successfully escaped from East Germany. Karen asked me why I was so excited about the Berlin Wall falling. I reached for words that a 4-year old could understand.
I said, “These men were told to kill anyone who tried to get from East Berlin to West Berlin.”
“How rude!”she said. [This is the inserted part.]
“And some other men had suddenly decided that they were no longer going to shoot people; they were going to let them leave. This meant that these people who before were trapped where they lived now were not trapped. They could get out and go places they’d always wanted to go.”
“Like Disneyland?” said Karen.
“That’s right,” I answered. “Not only can they go where they want, but also they can buy things they have always wanted to buy.”
And my daughter, grinning, said, “Like candy?”
“Yes,” I said, “like candy.” I later learned that that weekend, the candy stores in West Berlin actually were sold out.
My daughter had understood the essence of totalitarian socialism.