Gunter Schabowski

Gunter Schabowski

A German bureaucrat messing up on live TV led to the Berlin Wall falling. This East German Soviet official named Gunter Schabowski was set to announce travel being allowed outside of East Germany in a few days from the announcement, and one had to wait days to get and have the special travel visa authorized. He was to announce it on live government TV. He was rushed and tired, going to the press conference, and had not read the official government press release before coming on live TV. An aide just handed him the paper, which he read on camera. He read the first part of the release, which said “the government now authorizes travel freedom” on live TV. A reporter then asked, “so when does this take effect?” He had not had the chance to read about the travel limits and visa requirements yet and had had a long day. So instead of taking several live minutes to read the whole thing, Schabowski just mumbled: “as far as I know...right away.” This led to thousands of East Germans massing at the Wall and border checkpoints. People got angrier and angrier as they were refused passage. Finally, to avoid a riot or getting hurt themselves, one guard let some people on through. This led to a chain reaction and so bye-bye, Berlin Wall.

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