"Besieged city taken by storm" – Spanish ambassador on the opening of the border


Alonso Alvarez de Toledo (born 1931) was the last Spanish ambassador in the GDR from 1985 to 1990. He previously played an important role in the democratic transition of Spain after the death of dictator Francisco Franco and led his country to NATO. In his diary "En el pais que nunca existio. Diario del ultimo embajador espanol en la RDA ", first published in 1990, he reported as" well-informed, knowing insider and neutral, foreign observer "about the events in the GDR 1989/90. So it is in the blurb of the German edition "News from a country that never existed – diary of the last Spanish ambassador in the GDR" from 1992 to read.

In the following an excerpt from his "unusual chronicle", which according to the defunct publisher "Volk & Welt" is an "authentic contemporary historical document". It was re-published in Spain in 2018.

November 9, 1989

Today I'm living the most unusual moments of my entire stay in this country. Through an incredible combination of circumstances, I witness the opening of the Wall, which became history at 21:12 this evening.

The event could not have been more banal. Without warning, without announcements or public announcements, an unknown border policeman opened the gate of a fence and told the waiting people on the other side that they could happen. These three words "you can pass" have decided that the Berlin Wall ceased to be one and already transformed into a historical testimony.

The team from "Informe semanal" (a Spanish TV show – editor's note) had come to our house for dinner to later record footage of a rock concert at the House of Young Talents. On television we had seen how Schabowski announced at the evening press conference for the meeting of the Central Committee that the citizens of the GDR would be entitled to travel to West Germany and West Berlin. The message left us speechless. Kerstin, the interpreter, was incredibly impressed. At first, I thought the permit was only for the refugees, especially since visiting trips should be the subject of a later regulation. We left the food and made our way.

Because more curious than usual were on the way, we drove to Bornholmer bridge in walking pace. In fact, there were about a hundred people on the left sidewalk in front of the metal gate, through which pedestrians could reach the west. People questioned policemen about the when and how of the new regime. Rosa Maria Artal interviewed some of them who were blinded by the light of the hand lamps. Then two policemen from the other side of the lattice handed out handbills with the customs regulations for GDR citizens traveling abroad. They came from November 1987.

                    Sputnik / Tilo grasses

The German edition of the Ambassador Diary of 1992

Excited conversations and a few hysterical screams. The people read without understanding, however, tried to get even more of these notes. At that moment, the policeman opened the gate and motioned to the assembled people, who refused in disbelief.

  • "What formalities are required?"
  • "None."
  • "I only have my identity card with me …"
  • "That's enough."
  • "And can we go back?"
  • "At any time."

One looked at the other, and with a half-startled smile they walked quickly through the gate.

The wall is already history.

I'm talking to a policeman I've known for years. I'm having some trouble getting my permit to take the television crew to the western side of the bridge. Kerstin, the interpreter, refuses to get in the car. She is afraid of reprisals or a fine. I encourage them, and we are five in the car. We drive west, and here the reporters with their cameras pick up the ebullient expressions of those who were allowed to cross the forbidden line for the first time.

The fall of the Wall surpasses everything that has happened on that day: convening the Volkskammer on Monday, replacing Sindermann and electing his successor, discussing the situation in the country and confirming Hans Modrow as head of government …

Protests in several districts forced four of the new Politburo members to resign. The crisis in the party is deep and endangers the future of Krenz.

November 10, 1989

The night in West Berlin has become a festival. What had been a beleaguered city was taken by storm and occupied by hundreds of thousands who for the first time sniffed the air of freedom and were greeted with applause, flowers, fruit, hugs and tears.

The announcement that one would need a special permit from eight o'clock, has led to the fact that already in the early morning endless queues form before the police offices. The amount is so huge that the government has been forced to extend the freedom to cross the border with only an ID card until Tuesday. The festival continues throughout the day. …

In the afternoon, workers' groups started to open new crossings on the wall. In the evening I walk with Teresa through the city. On the Bornholm Bridge, we see ourselves carried away by the wave of collective joy that surges across the bridge under the smiles of policemen. Previously, they controlled the passports; Today they regulate the traffic. The "Trabis" are barely visible between the thousands. Many come back as they walked over, others already loaded with bags. They have already issued the "welcome money", which is one hundred marks a year, which every East German receives when he first comes to the Federal Republic. The banks are working overtime to cope with the onslaught.

Time and again I wonder why the Politburo took this step. No one could surmise that they thought the situation was so hopeless. It is said that Gorbachev Krenz was advised to shake off as many of the people's demands as possible in order to concentrate on the difficult problems. …

None of the four powers has done anything that might suggest a possible initiative to apply the 1971 Four Power Agreement. In any case, Bush will talk about all this with Gorbachev. In Malta, about Yalta. …

November 11, 1989

It is Saturday. Half East Berlin flooded the other part of the city. Endless lines in front of the banks. The astonished visitors look around, but concentrate on the colorful offer of fruit shops. The West Berliners stroke as a welcome greeting the cardboard bodies of the "Trabis". It's like the slap on the shoulder of a friend, the contact with the fetish, which should bring good luck. At the beginning of December, a meeting is planned between Krenz and Kohl.

From Magdeburg to Helmstedt a fifty-kilometer long queue on the highway in the direction of Germany.

I am convinced that the Central Committee did not foresee the message that East and West television would broadcast throughout the GDR this weekend. The East Germans have seen the moving faces of their compatriots in the West on their television screens all day long. Indescribable reactions of people who could not express what they felt and experienced. "That over there," that is, the Federal Republic, capitalism, revanchism and injustice is much better than what a citizen can imagine from the socialist paradise. The reunification has come several years closer, and it will be very difficult to defend one company from the other, in West Berlin, who can side by side offer pineapple and bananas, kiwis and grapes, oranges and pomegranates on a counter. …

At five o'clock Teresa comes back from West Berlin and gives me her impressions again: "An unlikely bustle. We were several times at the Brandenburg Gate. People sang, screamed, danced. Just crazy. Then we saw "Batman" in the cinema. For those from the East it only cost half. The Kurfurstendamm has turned into a pedestrian zone and is clogged. Not a few people sleep on the floor in the Europa Center. You have to queue to get a coffee and something to eat. The streets are littered with rubbish. … "…

November 12, 1989

Berlin continues to celebrate. From the whole GDR people come in special trains, by car, even on trucks. One has parked in front of our house. I photograph on Potsdamer Platz, a no-man's-land between two walls, which once had been the pulsating heart of the capital of the Third Reich. At eight o'clock in the morning, the mayors of the two parts of Berlin greet each other at the demarcation line and open a new transition. Several have been dedicated over the past twenty-four hours.

The opening of the wall was a military operation, with the same efficiency and speed as it did in 1961 when it was built. …

Today, the Osters are greeted with flowers, chewing gum and maps of West Berlin when they come over.
In the afternoon they return, laden with bags, the short-lived trophies of a hunting trip into the abundance of consumer society. Not politics, greed will bring reunification, because after a "Kudamm" stroll, the only goal of these people will be to have a social model that comes as close as possible to what flourishes in the besieged city. …

November 13, 1989

… In Berlin, the situation is normalizing and fewer people are moving to the West. Eight new border crossings have been opened, two more announced for tomorrow. On the long weekend, two million people went from East to West Berlin, leaving behind almost a thousand tons of waste. Millions of people drove across the border to the Federal Republic, where new transitions were also set up. …

November 14, 1989

… I am more and more confirmed in the suspicion that the wall was opened by a misunderstanding. The announcement by Schabowski, the gathering of people at some crossings, and the order to the police to avoid clashes or violence against the people meant that someday someone would give the order to let people through too quickly.

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