Today marks 25 years since the Berlin Wall came down – the wall which separated East and West Germany – signifying the fall of communism and the rise of democracy.
Harald Jäger, the former Stasi lieutenant-colonel gave the order for the gates to be opened and as he recounted his experience tears filled his eyes. But the tears the former Stasi lieutenant-colonel first shed on that November night 25 years ago came from feelings of humiliation and defeat rather than joy.
By 11.30 that night he and his colleagues were confronted by an angry and rapidly growing crowd of over 20,000 East Berliners chanting “Open the Gate”. Amid complete confusion, without clear orders and fearing a stampede, bloodbath or both, he took the snap decision to breach the divide.
The career border guard had passionately believed in and even helped to build the Berlin Wall back in 1961. Now, unwittingly, he was ordering its destruction, triggering German reunification. He didn’t know it then, but one of his next jobs would be running a newspaper kiosk just yards from where he now stood.
“After I gave the order, I and the other guards couldn’t believe what we were seeing. We were shell shocked, we felt the world was collapsing around us” he told The Independent in the small communist-era flat he shares with his wife in the village of Werneuchen north of Berlin.
“We stood there and watched our citizens leaving en masse. These were our people. We cried. We felt betrayed by our superiors. It was the terrible realisation that not only the system and our leaders had failed. We had too,” he added.
It wasn’t until about half an hour later when the vast tide of East Berliners – cheering, clapping, hooting and weeping with emotion as they poured westward – reached full ebb, that the penny dropped for Mr Jäger and his colleagues. “The crowds won us over with their euphoria, we realised that they were overjoyed and our tears of frustration turned to those of joy,” he said. “At that point one of the guards came up to me and said, Harald, I guess that was it with East Germany. It suddenly dawned on me that it was.”
Source: The Independent