WITNESS: The Wall loomed bigger than the Alps

Wed Nov 4, 2009 9:09am EST
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Peter Jebautzke, who grew up in East Germany, has worked for Reuters for 12 years as an IT field specialist. In the following story he describes his first trip to West Berlin at age 24.

By Peter Jebautzke

BERLIN (Reuters) - I had always dreamed of climbing the Alps but unfortunately, the Berlin Wall was in the way.

In November 1989 I was 24 and working as a trainee at the East German railway after studying cybernetics and information technology. I loved computers and hoped to be able to own one myself some day -- a rare privilege in East Germany.

That autumn the air in East Germany was full of hope, change and excitement -- but also fear, as we didn't know if there might be a violent crackdown to the small reform steps.

Along with millions of others I watched Guenter Schabowski's news conference live on television on November 9 when he pronounced those fateful words -- 'Reisefreiheit' (freedom to travel) and 'unverzueglich' (effective immediately).

It was the moment we'd all been dreaming about. I went to the Oberbaumbruecke border crossing that leads into the West Berlin district of Kreuzberg -- a world away until now even though it was just a few blocks south.

I was in a throng of people and held up my passport to show the East German border guards as we all swept across the border.

They didn't even look at it. It was simply incredible. Just a few hours earlier I might have been shot at trying to do this and now I was being whisked across in a flood of people and the guards didn't even seem to care.   Continued...

<p>An undated file photo shows East-German born Reuters employee Peter Jebautzke. REUTERS/Staff</p>