'Mysterious call' sped fall of Berlin Wall

17th April 2009, Comments 0 comments

An Italian reporter who asked the key question at a news conference about when East Germans would gain the right to travel freely after 28 years trapped behind the Wall told public broadcaster ARD he had received a secret tip.

Berlin -- The story of how the Berlin Wall suddenly fell 20 years ago needs some revising to account for a "mysterious phone call" made before the shock announcement, German television reported Thursday.

An Italian reporter who asked the key question at a news conference about when East Germans would gain the right to travel freely after 28 years trapped behind the Wall told public broadcaster ARD he had received a secret tip.

After weeks of mass defections of East Germans to the West in the autumn of 1989, a leading communist party functionary, Guenter Schabowski, gathered the press to read an announcement about a new policy lifting travel restrictions.

The Italian journalist, Riccardo Ehrmann, then asked the decisive question: "When will it take effect?" and Schabowski, evidently caught off-guard, stammered "directly, immediately."

The ad-libbed response effectively pulled down the Berlin Wall that night, November 9, 1989, and tens of thousands of joyous East Germans streamed to the border, met by cheering crowds in the West.

However what appeared to be a spontaneous exchange was "no coincidence," Ehrmann told ARD's Artour programme.

Shortly before the press conference, Ehrmann said he had received a "mysterious phone call" from a high-ranking functionary of the Socialist Unity Party, East Germany's ruling communists, whom he knew.

The man told him to "without fail ask about the travel law" when Schabowski met the press. And the rest was history.

Ehrmann, born in Florence in 1929, is a frequent visitor to Berlin and was awarded Germany's Bundesverdienstkreuz, the Federal Cross of Merit, last year.

AFP/Expatica

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