YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

From the archives: East Germans Punch 1st Holes in Wall, Pledge Free Elections

East Bloc: Tens of thousands stream past the Berlin Wall to the West. The Communist regime promises that freedom of travel will be permanent.

November 11, 1989|By William Tuohy | Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

WEST BERLIN -- Tens of thousands of East Germans streamed through the Berlin Wall into West Berlin on Friday as the Communist regime pledged that freedom of travel will be permanent, began punching holes in the wall for new crossings and promised free elections.

The incoming East Germans and the West Berliners greeting them caused the largest traffic jam ever in the city--with gridlock around the wall's checkpoints and city center as well as the glittering main street, the Kurfuerstendamm.

Major thoroughfares were turned into promenades late Friday with both East and West Berliners filling the streets, dancing, drinking, laughing--and some standing on the Berlin Wall.

An estimated 100,000 East Berliners arrived, and many availed themselves of the 100 West German marks offered as a welcome by the local government--enabling the visitors to go shopping with hard currency.

Many of the East Germans visited their local police stations to obtain an exit visa. Long lines formed, but the visas were issued promptly. Others simply went to one of the city's eight crossing points, where border guards ignored formalities and let them through to the West.

As Germans mingled happily on both sides of the wall, East Germany began making holes in it for at least eight more crossing points. Workers and soldiers removed a section of the wall blocking the Eberswalderstrasse. The Glienicke Bridge, site of numerous East-West spy swaps, reportedly was opened to general traffic. And an opening at Potsdamer Platz, once Europe's busiest square, is expected to be ready in a few days.

East German leader Egon Krenz, 52, appeared at a huge rally in East Berlin at the end of a momentous three-day meeting of the policy-making Central Committee of the Communist Party.

"Now is not the time for promises," he told the audience, his voice hoarse from earlier outdoor speeches in chill night air. He called for action.

Krenz said East Germany's Communists must no longer be divided between "us and them" but instead should be "our party."

But other speeches preceding Krenz's called for more reforms than Krenz publicly offered, and he was not particularly warmly received.

It was Interior Minister Friedrich Dickel who disclosed that the dramatic opening of West Berlin to East Germans on Thursday was not a temporary measure.

He said eight new border crossings will be opened and that public transit between the two parts of the once united German capital will be improved.

He added: "It is permanent and will be the foundation of a new travel law."

The East German party's Central Committee issued a statement after its meeting saying that its "action program" reforms will include free elections and parliamentary scrutiny of the detested state security apparatus.

The text transmitted by the official ADN news agency said:

"We propose carrying out parliamentary elections on the basis of a new election law. We are for one election law that guarantees a free, general, democratic and secret election and upholds public control at every stage of the election.

"We are for a democratic coalition government."

The Central Committee also urged "a socialist state based on the rule of law," and proposed "the introduction of a constitutional court in order to ensure compliance with the constitution."

The communique accused ousted leader Erich Honecker and two of his top lieutenants of serious mistakes that "have led the party and republic into a deep crisis," and it asked for a full investigation.

West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, interrupting an official visit to Poland to fly here, spoke to a sometimes unruly gathering in front of the West Berlin City Hall. He joined West Berlin Mayor Walter Momper and former Chancellor Willy Brandt.

Kohl termed it "a historic moment" and said of divided Germany:

"We are and will remain one nation, and we belong together. Long live a free German fatherland.

"We are ready to help you rebuild your country. You are not alone. We have all worked for this day.

"At this moment when the wall is falling," he added, "we should also spare a thought for those who died at the wall."

Mayor Momper, in an emotional address, said: "We are the happiest people in the world today. Our city and citizens will never forget this day."

Brandt, who was mayor when the Berlin Wall was built in 1961, said it "stood in the path of history."

Earlier, in a visit to the wall at the Brandenburg Gate, he exhorted a group of young people standing and sitting on the barrier: "Tear the wall down."

There, at the wall, the symbol of a divided Europe, an East German police officer assigned to watch the crowd proved unexpectedly genial when questioned.

"This is something the people in our country have been waiting now for 28 years," said the tall, blond officer. "Though people have seen West Berlin on television, people can't really imagine what to expect in person."

Los Angeles Times Articles