Primary Sources

Chancellor Kohl describes the opening of the German border


In this telephone call between West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and U.S. President George H. W. Bush, the two leaders discussed the developing situation in East Germany. The chancellor had just returned from a trip to Poland, where he met with the new Polish government discussing financial assistance. The news of the Berlin Wall opening up on November 9, 1989, forced him to cut his visit short and immediately fly to West Berlin. The next day, on November 10, the chancellor called the U.S. president to inform him personally about the situation in East Germany. In his report to the president, Kohl made it clear that he was worried about potential disruption to West German political and economic stability as well as about instability in East Germany. He voiced his pessimism that Egon Krenz, who replaced Erich Honecker as the General Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party (SED) on October 18, 1989, would be able to make the necessary reforms that would allow for a truly democratic society in East Germany.


George H. W. Bush, conversation with Helmut Kohl, November 10, 1989, Bush Presidential Library, Public Papers, Bush Library (accessed April 2, 2008).

Primary Source—Excerpt


I've just arrived from Berlin. It is like witnessing an enormous fair. It has the atmosphere of a festival. The frontiers are absolutely open. At certain points they are literally taking down the wall and building new checkpoints. At Checkpoint Charlie, thousands of people are crossing both ways. There are many young people who are corning over for a visit and enjoying our open way of life. I expect they will go home tonight. I would cautiously tell you that it appears that the opening has not led t o a dramatic increase in the movement of refugees. It may be with the frontier open, people will simply go back and forth, looking, visiting and going home. This will work only if the GDR really reforms and I have my doubts. Krenz will carry out reforms but I think there are limits. One of those limits seems to be one party rule and this simply will not work. Certainly, in particular, it will not work without pluralism, free trade unions and so forth. I could imagine that this will continue for a few weeks -- that for a few weeks people will wait to see if the reforms come and if there is no light at the end of the tunnel they will run away from the GDR in great numbers. This would be a catastrophe for economic development; good people are leaving. The figures this year -- 230,000 have come. Their average age has been between 25 and 30. This is a catastrophe for the GDR. They are doctors, lawyers, specialists who cannot be replaced. They can earn more here. This is a dramatic thing; an historic hour. Let me repeat. There were two major manifestations (political gatherings) in Berlin. One was in front of the Berlin Town Hall where there were a lot of left wing rowdies, these are the pictures that will be shown on TV around the world. The second was at the Kurfurstendamm organized by our political friends. It was a t about 6:30PM and the estimates are that there were 120,000 - 200,000 people. The overall spirit was optimistic and friendly. When I thanked the Americans for their role in all of this, there was much applause. Without the US this day would not have been possible. Tell your people that the GDR people in the protests and demonstrations have been sincere, not aggressive. This makes it very impressive. There have been no conflicts, even though in East a Berlin, Leipzig and Dresden hundreds of thousands have been in the streets. I hope they will continue to be calm and peaceful. This is my short report.

How to Cite this Source

Chancellor Helmut Kohl, "Chancellor Kohl describes the opening of the German border," Making the History of 1989, Item #29, (accessed May 28 2021, 3:26 pm).

Associated Files