I was there in Berlin on November 9th 1989. There is nothing special about this: it seems that half the world was there with me, although I don’t recall seeing them at the time. Daniel Johnson, the editor of a rival publication, even claims to have asked the vital question at an East Berlin press conference that led to the announcement that the wall was effectively defunct. But I think I am the only British journalist who witnessed that great evening in the company of pony-tailed American pop music impresarios.
The East German regime had been looking vulnerable for several weeks—even since the big East German outflow through Hungary—and we (at the Financial Times where I was working) were taking every opportunity to get into the country to gauge popular feeling. So when the opportunity came to attend a conference on rock music promotion in East Germany at a swanky East Berlin hotel from November 9th to 10th I grabbed it.
The East German government was keenly aware of the importance of rock music in keeping its young people happy and it used to attract a stream of the best bands in the world. It also had quite a thriving rock music industry of its own and was keen to export bands—at least those who could be relied upon to return. As I sat rather bored listening to East German cultural bureaucrats debating with the pony-tailed Americans I remember someone coming into the hall, in the early evening, and saying that the wall had opened.
The pony-tailed ones seemed bemused and indifferent, while the rest of us legged it from the hotel and headed to the wall. The rest is a blur. I was on my own so spent the evening celebrating in various ways with strangers, when I wasn’t worrying about how and when to file copy back to the Financial Times from my hotel room. At one point I remember seeing a couple of young drunk East German soldiers—or were they policemen?—stumbling across Alexanderplatz and thinking to myself that this must indeed be a “revolutionary moment.”
The next day I met an East German friend at one of the crossing points and we went to join some of the people hacking at the wall. I filled my pockets…