Now for another spot of time travel – back to the year 1989. Thousands of East Germans were heading for the west – initially through gaps in what was known as the “Iron Curtain”, later via the official border caring for the refugees, providing food and accommodation, and making sure basic sanitation and medical care were available.
Thousands also attempted to reach the Federal Republic via West Germany’s embassy in Prague, housed in the Palais Lobkowitz. They climbed over the embassy’s high fence and waited for days, and sometimes weeks, always hoping to be able to leave for West Germany.
By the 30th of September 1989, the number of people gathered in the grounds had reached five thousand. At that point, the West German foreign minister, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, arrived and made an announcement from the balcony of the embassy:
„Wir sind zu Ihnen gekommen, um Ihnen mitzuteilen, dass heute ihre Ausreise...“
(“We have come to you to let you know that your departure has today...“ )
Of course, he told them they’d be able to leave. The rest of his sentence was drowned out by the cheering.
“They were euphoric, relieved and delighted with their new freedom, it was unprecedented” ...
… recalled Rudolf Seiters, the long-serving President of the German Red Cross. In those days, he headed the Office of the German Chancellery and led the negotiations with East Germany. He’d travelled to Prague with Genscher.
The first of three special trains left Prague that same night. In the city of Hof, in Upper Franconia, three hundred Red Cross workers awaited the refugees. They arranged emergency accommodation, while the tracing service registered the new arrivals and helped to reunite families. One of the workers recalled that they’d handed out enough soup to fill an entire swimming pool.
The chapter “Umweg Prague“ – the Prague Diversion – recounts stories surrounding the great flight from East Germany…
... and calls on people to show solidarity with today’s refugees.
Fotos: © Rotkreuz Museum