“The Berlin Wall. Brooding, cold and gray, it was an ugly, intimidating structure, symbolizing the East-West divide, not only in Berlin, or Germany, or even Europe, but the world.”
– George Jahn, AP correspondent
East German troops, under the direction of hard-line Communist Party leader Erich Honecker, move to seal all access to West Berlin after a mass exodus of hundreds of thousands of East Germans threatens to ruin the economy.
In the following days, barbed wire is replaced by concrete barriers. Houses along the border are sealed. Border guards are issued shoot-to-kill orders for all those trying to flee. West Berlin is encircled and isolated from the West.
President Kennedy visits West Berlin. In a show of solidarity with the divided city he declares to a cheering crowd of 400,000 at the wall, “I bin ein Berliner,” or “I am a jelly doughnut.” Although his intended words were immediately understood, the slip quickly spread and made the speech instantly famous.
President Reagan visits West Berlin and calls on Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev to tear the wall down.
The last fatality related to an escape attempt over the Berlin Wall is recorded. An East Berlin man falls to his death after his homemade hot-air balloon deflates prematurely. A total of 80 East Germans have been reported killed trying to flee over the wall since 1961.
About 300,000 people march for democratic reforms in Leipzig.
Demonstrators in East Berlin take to the streets to demand free elections and to protest Krenz's uncontested candidacy.
Hundreds of thousands hold rallies in cities around the country.
About 1 million protesters jam East Berlin in the largest pro-reform rally in the nation's 40-year history.
More than 750,000 people stage pro-reform rallies across the nation. At least 500,000 protest in Leipzig alone. There are rising calls within the Communist Party for sweeping top-level changes. Government publishes draft of a travel law that would allow 30 days of travel abroad every year.
Hard-line Communist Party leader Erich Honecker, who supervised the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961, is replaced by Egon Krenz after 18 years in power. Two other members of the ruling Politburo are fired.
Krenz is installed as head of state and chief of the military.
Politburo member Guenter Schabowski meets with two leaders of the New Forum in the first contact between the government and the opposition.
Krenz announces a general amnesty for those convicted of fleeing to the West and appeals to East Germans to return home. He promises a new law will be drafted to allow East Germans greater freedom of travel to the West.
East German leader Egon Krenz holds talks in Moscow with Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev and announces East Germany has much to learn from Kremlin-style reforms.
East German officials announce that East German who want to flee West can do so over the Czechoslovak frontier, spurring a new surge in a 2-month-old exodus. Krenz announces five more hard-line Politburo members will be fired.
East Germany's 44-member Council of Ministers announces its resignation. The travel law draft is rejected by a key parliamentary committee as too narrow and restrictive. West German officials say more than 33,000 East Germans arrive since the route through Czechoslovakia was opened.
The Communist leadership declares that citizens can travel directly to West Germany through East German checkpoints with proper documentation. Thousands of East Berliners make their way to the Berlin Wall. Officials waive the requirement for visas and thousands stream over to West Berlin for a night of celebration.
“With decades of fortified frontiers apparently at an end, the wall that represented the literal division between the East and West may become a mere monument to the Cold War.”
– Nesha Starcevic, AP writer