The Berlin Wall: How “Haste Makes Waste” Played Into Its Demise

Günter Schabowski, the party boss in East Berlin and the spokesman for the SED Politburo, is responsible for the fall of the Berlin wall, at least indirectly. He had been given the task of announcing new travel regulations that would allow East Germans to visit West Germany. However, he had not been involved in the discussions about the new regulations and had not been fully updated. Shortly before a press conference, he was handed a note announcing the changes, but given no further instructions on how to handle the information. These regulations had only been completed a few hours earlier and were to take effect the following day, so as to allow time to inform the border guards, but this starting time delay was not communicated to Schabowski. Part of the regulations were that East Germans would have to apply for a special travel visa and would likely wait days to receive it. Schabowski, of course, didn’t know that because he hadn’t taken the time to read the entire announcement. At the end of the press conference, Schabowski read out loud the note he had been given, which began, “The government now authorizes travel freedom.” ANSA reporter Riccardo Ehrman asked when the regulations would take effect. After a few seconds' hesitation, Schabowski replied, "As far as I know, it takes effect immediately, without delay." After further questions from journalists, he confirmed that the regulations included the border crossings through the Wall into West Berlin, which he had not mentioned until then. After hearing the broadcast, East Germans began gathering at the Wall and at 6 checkpoints between East and West Berlin, demanding that the gates be opened. Guards called the East German authorities, but it soon became clear that no one was going to take responsibility, so the commander of the border guard ordered the guards to let the people through. More and more East Germans flocked to the wall, and on the evening of Nov. 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall came down.