Contemporary Times

The Last Days of the Wall

‘This Government has decided to grant its citizens the permanent right to travel abroad,’ said Günter Schabowski, spokesman of the new government of the German Democratic Republic.

‘And how?’ asked Riccardo Ehrmann, an Italian journalist.

‘Permanent expatriation can be done via any frontier station between the German Democratic Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany.’

‘Is this decree in force for West Berlin, too?’

‘… Yes, yes.’

‘Since when?’

‘Uh … as far as I know, it comes into force, well … ab sofort.’

It was the beginning of the end. Ab sofort means ‘straightaway’ in German. The live broadcast press conference ended with these words at 7:01 p.m. Straightaway, tens of thousands of East Berliners ...

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