This is the fourth episode in my retrospective titled “25 Years Ago”, commemorating the turn of events in the fall of 1989.
02 October – a Monday it was. As part of what can only be described an unusual scheme which however worked in the day, I spent every eighth week studying business economics in transport/aviation at the college “HfV” Dresden. Fellow student Gerhard, also from Berlin and with the then important advantage to own a Lada, picked me up, and we were able to discuss the news of the day as well as the challenges of the study week lying ahead, during the two-hour journey from Berlin to Dresden that morning.
Following three weeks of losing thousands of citizens to the West, the border to Czechoslovakia had been closed by the GDR authorities in the morning hours of 04 October, hermetically sealing what’s been one of the most fortified areas since the Wall’s construction in 1961. Given Dresden’s location just 30 km from the handful of checkpoints at the Czechoslovakian border, naturally the city became the accumulation point that day, gathering place for these people returning from the border disallowed, and those taken by surprise on their way southbound. The atmosphere was further heating up when word spread that the trains carrying the 4,500 refugees who had sought asylum in the FRG’s embassy in Prague were rerouted via GDR territory, unavoidably through already overcrowded Dresden station of course. In hindsight, I believe it was that cold and unwise statement by the state’s news agency ADN two days before, which angered and provoked the “remaining” people, and which really strengthened and unified the opposition: “We do not shed any tears over them.”
The city now sat on a powder keg, in the midst of preparations for the long-awaited celebration of the 40th anniversary of the foundation of the German Democratic Republic on coming Saturday, 07 October (named after Saturn, the god of conformity, founder of civilizations and of social order in Roman mythology, which is my flash of thought here). Wednesday, 04 October, thus was busy and crammed with action. After a handful of lectures and seminars, we strolled to the main station and the Prager Strasse in the early evening hours, where the scene was divided between 5,000 people attempting to somehow enter the station or even to sneak in those trains, – and combined security forces. Bystanders, including myself, were rather few, because of the intimidating effect of the street’s front-line, and the use of teargas, truncheons and water cannons, unseen in my life before.
We continued to Studenten-Club “Wu 11” (thanks, Grossi), where The Blamage held their most energetic gig in years, high-octane due to all that tension around (nowadays: “Club 11”). I remember one late guest arriving from Leipzig and giving a first-hand account of the demonstration on 02 October over there, where the famous slogan “We are the people” was first used. With what I vividly remember as a truly electrifying stare, he portrayed the encouraging strength of the other main slogan used that day: “We are staying here!”, sounding as if that intention was meant to be a threat, now that all the others whom we didn’t “…shed a tear over…” were gone. Many were gone indeed, and the remainers were to take over majority on the streets from now on.
Unknown to the 25-year-old student, but read many years later much to his surprise, the Prime Minister of the UK, Margaret Thatcher, had already discussed the issue of German unification during a meeting with Michail Gorbachev in Moscow on 23 September. – A week later, FRG Minister of Foreign Affairs Hans-Dietrich Genscher in Prague, giving the news to the refugees in the embassy’s inner courtyard – the crowd’s excessive noise came in during the word “Ausreise…”, and we will never really get to know the complete speech. – Peking, 02 October: celebration of the 40th anniversary of the foundation of the PRC, nominated GDR crown prince and SED-Politbüro member Egon Krenz attended and commented “The GDR and China stand shoulder to shoulder in the conflicts of our time.”
“Who dares nothing, need hope for nothing.” (Friedrich Schiller)