November 7, 2014 / 6:13 AM / 3 years ago

Human wave of East Germans surges across Berlin Wall

5 Min Read

WEST BERLIN(Reuters) - (This story, written by former Reuters correspondent Katerina Syrimi in West Berlin on Nov 11, 1989, reported on the human wave of East Germans pouring into West Berlin after the opening of the Berlin Wall. It was opened 25 years ago on Sunday.)

A human wave of East Germans, a quarter of a million strong according to an official estimate, swept through the Berlin Wall on Saturday to pack the pavements of West Berlin 20-deep with sightseers.

Even three new crossing points created during the night could barely cope with the tide of humanity.

The once feared East German border guards were brushed aside as the torrent of people swept through on foot, by car and by subway.

Smartly dressed West Berliners out for Saturday shopping were submerged in a sea of their East German compatriots, easily recognizable in what was almost a uniform of drab blue anoraks and shabby trousers.

Many of the visitors had crossed over on Friday and stayed all night. They wandered wide-eyed down the glittering shopping streets and formed queues hundreds long outside post offices and banks as early as 6 a.m. to collect the 100 marks (54 dollars) being granted to each visitor by the Bonn government.

One young man fighting for his place in one of these queues said: "I'm just going to collect my money today and come back to shop tomorrow when it's quieter."

There was a contrast in the emotions of East Germans crossing at Schlesischer Street, one of the new access points opened today.

One middle-aged woman, newly arrived in the West, said through tears: "I've waited 28 years for this."

But other East Germans going home after a visit were relaxed and smiling as they said goodbye to Western relatives and friends. In contrast to the few visits grudgingly allowed under the old East German regime they knew that in future they could come back to the West whenever they wanted.

Few visitors had the money to buy the glitzy, hi-tech gear on sale in the West. But one young man returning through Schlesischer Street proudly displayed what he had got.

"My West Berlin aunt bought me this ghetto blaster (radio cassette player)," he said. "I couldn't afford it myself."

Other visitors were homeward bound with plastic bags bulging with newly purchased goods like tennis shoes, bananas and chocolate, all rare in the East.

Some who planned to come back said they were confident they could somehow scratch together the hard currency they would need for shopping.

"The relatives in West Berlin are bound to give us some money and we'll take out our savings and change them into West German marks," said one young woman.

The only incident to mar the festive air of Saturday's visits occurred at the Brandenburg Gate when a group of young West Berliners punched a hole in the Wall with sledgehammers and broke through to the East, shouting "The Wall must come down".

East German police using water cannon drove them back.

"Come over, come over," people on the West side shouted to the police.

"If I wanted to come over then I'd use a bloody door," one policeman yelled back.

As the East Germans kept pouring through, the estimate by the West Berlin city government of a quarter-million Saturday visitors looked to be an understatement.

An East German Interior Ministry spokesman, quoted by the official news agency ADN, said 1,660,000 visas for visits to West Berlin and West Germany had been issued since border controls were relaxed on Thursday. That means 10 percent of the population have formally asked permission to visit the West.

The bargain-hunting East Germans flooding the streets of West Berlin brought joy to shopkeepers and store managers - at least to some of them.

"They're buying the cheaper stuff," said Bertholf Goeryens, manager of a cut-price clothing store. "For me, it will probably be the best day this year, but the more expensive places won't do much business."

Other shop assistants and managers agreed.

A few lucky visitors had been given cash by West German friends or relatives, but many seemed happy just to spend their money at the steaming sausage stands or in cafes.

Cinemas offered cut prices to "our friends from the East" and free soup kitchens were set up in the streets to offer people food.

Shop assistants used to demanding and complaining customers were impressed by their new clients.

"They are very disciplined, very polite," said Goeryens. "Not like the ones over here. But who knows? If they get used to it, they'll probably end up being as rude as the West Berliners."

Filed by Jeremy Gaunt

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