Timeline: From partition to reunification

For almost 30 years, the people of East and West Berlin, and East and West Germany, lived separate lives, divided by an Iron Curtain.

August 12, 1961 – GDR leader Walter Ulbricht signs the order to close the border between East and West Germany.

August 13, 1961 – Berliners wake to find the geography of their city radically altered overnight. Barbed wire coils and brick walls form a hastily-built barrier between East and West, separating families, dividing streets and cutting workers off from their livelihoods.
Watch an old newsreel on the construction of the Berlin Wall
Watch an old newsreel on the effects of the Berlin Wall
Over the next weeks and months, the wall would be replaced with a reinforced concrete and steel barrier.

International responses to what East German authorities called the "anti-fascist protection wall" were muted, with little or no direct criticism.

West Berliners, led by Mayor Willi Brandt, held a protest against the wall's construction, and against the lack of condemnation from the US.

August 15, 1961 – Conrad Schumann, an East German border guard, becomes the first high-profile defector to the West. As he kept watch over a strip of the barbed wire 'wall', West Berliners yelled at him to "Komm rueber!" – come across. Schumann did just that, vaulting over the barrier. His leap was captured on camera by a passing photographer, becoming one of the defining images of the era.

August 22, 1961 – Ida Siekmann becomes the first person to die while attempting to flee to the West. Siekmann, 58, whose home in Bernauer Strasse backed on to the wall, threw a pile of blankets and bedding out of her third-floor window before jumping to the ground. She suffered serious injuries, and died on the way to hospital.

In the early days of the wall, many East Berliners escaped by jumping from houses overlooking the barrier – the West Berlin fire brigade helped many to safety by holding out sheets for them to jump in to.

August 24, 1961 – Guenter Litfin becomes the first person to be shot dead while trying to escape from East Berlin. Litfin, 24, a tailor who had planned to move to West Berlin before the wall was erected, was gunned down as he attempted to swim across the Spree River.

August 17, 1962 – Trainee bricklayer Peter Fechter is gunned down in the wall's 'Death Strip', and left to die in full view of horrified passers-by on the Western side of the wall.

June 26, 1963US President John F Kennedy visits West Berlin to show solidarity with the city's people. His 'Ich bin ein Berliner' speech in front of the Schoeneberg Town Hall will go down in history as one of the defining moments of the Cold War.
Watch a video of JFK's 'Ich bin ein Berliner' speech



June 12, 1987 – In West Berlin to mark the city's 750th anniversary, US President Ronald Reagan challenges Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down this wall!", one of the key moments of the Cold War.
Watch a video of Ronald Reagan's 'Tear down this Wall' speech

September 7, 1987 - GDR leader Erich Honecker visits the West German capital, Bonn, to meet West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

November 19, 1988 - Soviet magazine Sputnik is banned in East Germany, after GDR authorities deem it to be too critical of Stalinism.

January 19, 1989 – GDR leader Erich Honecker insists "the Wall will be standing in 50 and even 100 years, if the reasons for it are not removed".

February 6, 1989 – Chris Gueffroy becomes the final person to be shot dead while attempting to flee across the Berlin Wall. Gueffroy, 20, a barman, decided to cross the wall after hearing a rumour that the order to shoot anyone trying to escape East Berlin had been lifted. He and a friend, Christian Gaudian, were fired at as they climbed the wall at Treptow. Gueffroy was hit 10 times and died in no-man's-land. Gaudian was shot but survived; he was later jailed.

March 8, 1989 – Winfried Freudenberg is the last person to die while trying to escape to West Berlin. Freudenberg, 32, a chemist, built a home-made gas-filled balloon to fly across the wall. He made it to the West, but was killed when the balloon crashed into the garden of a house in the suburb of Zehlendorf.

May 2, 1989 – The first chink appears in the Iron Curtain, when Hungary begins dismantling its border fence with Austria, allowing hundreds of East Germans on holiday in the country to flee to the West.

May 7, 1989 - Local elections are held in the GDR. The results are televised on West German television, allowing East German viewers to see election rigging in progress.

May 8, 1989 - Local election results published in the SED party newspaper. Opposition activists note a disparity of up to 10 per cent between the 'official' results and the real ones.

Summer 1989 – Thousands of East Germans decide to flee the country, driving their Trabant cars to Hungary and Czechoslovakia.
The East German leadership is unsure of how to react to their defection. GDR leader Erich Honecker insisted, "We won't shed any crocodile tears for them".
Many take refuge in the grounds of the West German embassy in Prague: By September some 6,000 refugees are living there in cramped, unsanitary conditions.

August 19, 1989 – The 'Pan-European Picnic' an event intended to foster friendship between Hungarians and Austrians takes place at Sopron, on the border between the two countries. More than 900 East Germans take advantage of the festivities, rushing across into Austria.

September 4, 1989Weekly 'Monday Demonstrations' begin in the East German city of Leipzig. Meeting at a local church, protesters call for more freedom of movement, and for the right to vote in free elections. The group, with their catch-cry of "We are the People", is widely credited with helping to hasten the fall of the Berlin Wall.

September 11, 1989 – Hungary opens its border for citizens of the GDR. Within three days of the Hungarian border opening, some 15,000 East Germans have travelled to West Germany via Austria.

September 11, 1989 - The second Monday Demonstration is held in Leipzig. Police arrest 89 protesters, 19 of whom are given jail terms for their roles in the campaign.

September 30, 1989 – West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher announces that 4,000 East German refugees gathered in the grounds of the West German embassy in Prague will be allowed to travel to the West - in sealed trains.
Genscher is given a rapturous welcome, and only manages to say, "We have come to tell you that today your departure…" before he is drowned out by ecstatic cheers.
Watch video of Genscher's speech at the Prague embassy (in German)

October 2, 1989 – Pro-democracy campaigners in Leipzig are beaten by the police during the weekly Monday Demonstration.

October 4, 1989 - As the sealed trains containing East Germans fleeing to the west from the embassy in Prague pass through Dresden, violence breaks out. Crowds of 3,000 people converge on the main station, trying to get onto the trains, prompting police to attack.

October 5, 1989 - 650 GDR citizens who had earlier taken refuge at the West German embassy in Prague finally arrive in the west.

October 6-7, 1989 – Mikhail Gorbachev visits East Berlin for talks with Erich Honecker, urging the GDR leader to accept the necessity for reform, reportedly telling Honecker, "He who is late will be punished by life".

October 7, 1989 – The 40th anniversary of the German Democratic Republic. The occasion is marked by mass marches, military parades, and a ceremony for dignitaries at the East German parliament, the Palace of the Republic.
But along with the celebrations, there are demonstrations: Crowds gather in Berlin and other eastern cities, but rather than chanting in support of Erich Honecker, they call out "Gorby, Gorby, help us!"
Watch video of the celebrations - and protests - on the 40th anniversary of the GDR (in German)

October 9, 1989 – Protesters at Leipzig's Monday Demonstration make a breakthrough. Between 75,000 and 100,000 people – out of a population of 500,000 – take to the streets.
As they march through the city, the Stasi and riot police step aside to let them pass.
Secretly-filmed footage of the demonstration is broadcast on West German television, prompting copycat protests in other East German cities.
Watch video of the 'Montagsdemonstrationen' (in German)

October 16, 1989 – 120,000 people – almost a quarter of the city's population – take part in the Monday Demonstration in Leipzig.

October 18, 1989 – GDR leader Erich Honecker and key members of the Politburo are forced to resign. Honecker is replaced by his deputy, Egon Krenz. Honecker's wife Margot, who served as Education Minister for 26 years, is among those to retire.

October 23, 1989 – 320,000 people – more than half of the city's population – take part in Leipzig's Monday Demonstration.

October 24, 1989 - Egon Krenz is sworn in as the new leader of the GDR. In his first televised speech as head of the party and the country, Krenz announces a political 'Wende', or turnaround, pledging dialogue and reforms in a desperate attempt to stem the flow of East Germans fleeing to the west.

November 4, 1989 – More than 500,000 East Germans gather at Alexanderplatz in East Berlin to demand freedom of movement and free elections.
Thousands more take to the streets of Potsdam, Chemnitz (then known as Karl-Marx-Stadt), Dresden and other cities.

November 7, 1989 – GDR Prime Minister Willi Stoph resigns, along with his cabinet and most of the Politburo. Hans Modrow takes over as Premier.

November 9, 1989 – A mistake at a press conference by GDR government spokesman Guenter Schabowski leads to a mass exodus through the Berlin Wall.
Announcing a series of new travel arrangements under which East Germans will be allowed to travel to the West, he is asked when the new rules will come into effect. A confused Schabowski famously replies 'Uh… Immediately.'
Watch video of Schabowski's infamous press conference (in German)

As soon as the news gets out, East Berliners head for the Wall, demanding to be allowed through.
At the Bornholmer Street crossing, a few hundred gather within minutes. The crowd swells, and by 11pm, almost 20,000 people are waiting at the border, demanding to be allowed to cross into West Berlin. They chant "Open the gate, open the gate", but the bemused border guards refuse. Another cry, this time "We'll be back, we'll be back" breaks out, and eventually, at 11.30pm, the guards relent, lifting the barriers to allow everyone through.
Watch footage of East Berliners demanding to be allowed to cross into West Berlin (German with subtitles)

East Berliners drive their broken-down Trabis along the Kurfuerstendamm, West Berlin's swanky shopping street.
Soon after, the border is breached at other crossing points, including Invalidenstrasse, where West Berliners force the guards to lift the barrier.
Floods of tearful Ossis wander into West Berlin, where they are greeted by champagne-wielding Westerners.

November 10, 1989 - By early morning, there are massive queues at all border crossings, as more and more East Germans head west.

November 10-11, 1989 - East and West Berliners hold hands, dance and sing atop the Berlin Wall at the Brandenburg Gate.

November 13, 1989 - Erich Mielke, the widely-hated head of the Stasi, addresses the East German parliament, for the last time. He appears confused by what has happened, and people's reactions to him, insisting, "But I love everyone".

November 18, 1989 – GDR leader Egon Krenz swears in a new government.

November 22, 1989 - East Germany's opposition groups form a 'round table' in East Berlin, bringing together representatives of the country's old and new political powers.

November 28, 1989 - West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl announces a 10-point program for reunification by federation - a process expected to take at least five years.

November 28, 1989 - 'For our country', a manifesto calling for the GDR to become a socialist alternative to the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), but it fails to capture the public imagination. The pressure for reunification intensifies; at protests, East Germans now chant "We are one people!" instead of "We are the people!"

December 1, 1989 - The SED's claim to leadership is removed from the constitution.

December 7, 1989 – Egon Krenz quits as leader of the GDR, following the resignations of the entire Politburo and the Central Committee. Premier Hans Modrow becomes de facto leader of the GDR.

December 8-9, 1989 - The SED renames itself the Party of Democratic Socialism.

December 19, 1989 - Helmut Kohl and his East German counterpart Hans Modrow visit Dresden together. Tens of thousands of people gather outside the city's Frauenkirche church.

December 22, 1989 - Helmut Kohl and Hans Modrow open the new pedestrian border crossing at the Brandenburg Gate.

January 15, 1990 - More than 15,000 people demonstrate outside the Stasi complex in East Berlin, eventually occupying the building.

February 5, 1990 - Eight representatives of the non-parliamentary opposition join Hans Modrow's government as ministers without portfolio.

March 1, 1990 - The Modrow government forms an agency responsible for privatising East Germany's state-owned industry. Privatisation will be completed by December 30, 1994.

March 18, 1990 - Free and fair elections are held in East Germany for the first time in decades. The Alliance for Germany coalition (East CDU, Democratic Awakening and the German Social Union) notch up 48 per cent of the vote. 27 per cent of voters plump for the parties and alliances of the citizens movement, five per cent for the liberals, and one in six people vote for the PDS (the renamed SED).

April 12, 1990 - A grand coalition is formed, under Lothar De Maiziere, the first - and only - leader of a democratic East Germany. But the election has not solved the country's problems - every day, 2,000 East Germans are still packing up and heading west every day (by now, 550,000 have left since the summer of 1989).

May 18, 1990 - Legislation signed to pave the way for monetary, economic and social union.

June 22, 1990 - The control station at Checkpoint Charlie is removed.

July 1, 1990 - Monetary, economic and social union comes into force - the Deutschmark is introduced to East Germany.

July 21, 1990 - 300,000 people gather to watch as rock opera The Wall, directed by Pink Floyd's Roger Waters, is staged on the former Death Strip near the Brandenburg Gate.

August 31, 1990 - The unification treaty, more than 1,000 pages long, and which has taken just 56 days to negotiate, is signed.

September 1990 - Civil rights activists occupy the Stasi Central Office, demanding that the organisation's voluminous files and archives be opened to the public.

September 12, 1990 - 2+4 Treaty signed by the two Germanies and the four wartime Allies (USSR, US, UK and France), giving Germany back her full sovereignty.

September 13, 1990 - The GDR's national football team bids farewell to the international sporting arena, with a 2-0 win over Belgium.

Midnight, October 30, 1990 - The flag of a reunited Germany is raised over the Reichstag in Berlin. The GDR ceases to exist. Fireworks go off across the city.

December 2, 1990 - The first all-German parliamentary elections are held.

December 20, 1990 - The new Bundestag (parliament) is formed.

Source SBS

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