Thursday, October 4, 2007

The Final Day

9th November, 1989. Günter Schabowski, East German propaganda minister walks into a seemingly routine press conference nursing the tail-end of a blistering hangover. His recent vacation had been a memorable one, and his head is swimming in the deluge as a result. Wading his way through a yawn inducing tirade of pre-rehearsed questions regarding the status of the German textile industry, the press conference suddenly takes a decisive and unexpected turn.

What is the nature of these questions being directed at him? How is he expected to be responding to inquiries regarding the freedom of the German people to travel? He had successfully managed to miss the press briefing this morning, a point he had congratulated himself on repeatedly since. The only thing he had been given was..

THE BRIEFING MEMO. Brilliant. Deftly removing the typed page from his briefcase and expertly positioning his stylish reading glasses, Günter begins reading, for the first time, the highlighted sections of the page before him.

"..we have decided today (um) to implement a regulation that allows every citizen of the German Democratic Republic (um) to (um) leave the GDR through any of the border crossings."

The audience is stupefied. What did he just say? Temporarily regaining his composure, one of the reporters present manages to raise his voice above the resulting media squall.

"Without a passport? WITHOUT A PASSPORT?"

Again consulting the document, Schabowski confirms that to his knowledge, the new changes would replace any previous requirement for travel documentation. His political comrades on the sidelines wince at the omission, their animated hand-to-throat motions signaling 'please stop now Günter' going obliviously unheeded by the drowning minister.

A timid reporter, who has so far been quiet for the during the conference, stands up, squeaking out his decisive, and historical, question.

"And when do these changes come into effect?"

Schabowski, only now realising both the enormity of the situation and the length he has yet to endure his poor aching head, searches in vain across the page for a date in which to attribute these changes. He finds only the date at the top of the memo, written directly next to the words 'TOP SECRET' in bold red font. He replies softly, a man defeated.

"According to my information, immediately."

Schabowski could not have known that these changes were intended to have come in over the course of years. They had only been discussed and proposed that morning, probably at the same time Günter had been swallowing his first aspirin.

Armed with this incredible story, several reporters leave the conference at once, breaking the news across East Berlin within hours. People begin to crowd checkpoints all across the city, demanding immediate access to the West. The Guards at the gate are confused; they have received no orders from their superiors regarding the wholesale immigration of East Berlin residents. Frantic calls are made, but no minister is willing to give the order to use lethal force. Yet still the gates don't budge.

His confidence bolstered by the exponentially growing numbers of his fellow countrymen, one brave Berliner, using his friend as leverage, hoists himself onto the wall. Ignoring the aggressive shouts from the guards below, he looks out over the west - a part of his city that he has never seen before. Suddenly, he feels a thudding jolt slam into his lower back, and immediately fears he has become the final casualty of his city's lethal duality.

But he remains. Far from being shot at, he has been targeted instead by a water cannon! This joyous epiphany spreads across the mob within seconds. Feeling no reservations in facing a barrage of water, people begin to scale the wall in droves. Resigning themselves to the inevitable, the border guards finally relent and open the checkpoint gates. East Berliners, for the first time in 27 years, walk freely into the West.

West Berlin news crews rush up to some of the first people across the border. Asked what they are thinking, most people echo remarkably similar sentiments.

"Crazy" they breathe, shaking their heads. "Just... crazy."

Transcribed from a story told by Andrew from New Berlin. The more important details of the story I made every attempt to check, but is still sure to contain many inaccuracies and/or poetic license.


eleanor bloom said...

Awesome Davey. Thanks for sharing that.

Hmmm. Maybe one of Burma's generals will get drunk and do something 'silly'! *crosses fingers*

davey said...

Call me a cynic, but i get the feeling things are going to get a lot drunker, and a lot sillier, for those poor people. Already some the papers seem to be losing interest in the story, without the beautiful saphron imagery of the monks to accompany their stories.

jezzism said...

i told you this in the kitchen last night but i figure i'll post it here for the rest of the world to read.

this was awesome - so good in fact that i thought you had ripped it off from somewhere - nice one priceeeeeeyyy