Twenty-Five Years Ago Today, the Berlin Wall Came Down

The man who gave the order to let the crowd through.


NPR profiles Harald Jaeger, the East German border guard who—25 years ago today—looked out at a throng of 10,000 people trying to swarm across the Berlin Wall and gave the order to let them through. Jaeger was a loyalist who says he "cheered" when the wall went up in 1961, seeing it as a "rampart against fascism." But when the crowd wanted to cross, he stood down:

I don't want a holiday in the sun.

To ease the tension, he was ordered to let some of the rowdier people through, but to stamp their passports in a way that rendered them invalid if they tried to return home.

Their departure only fired the crowd up more, and pressure mounted on Jaeger from above and below to avert a riot. Despite orders from his higher ups not to let more people through, at 11:30 p.m.: "I ordered my guards to set aside all the controls, raise the barrier and allow all East Berliners to travel through," he says.

It's an order Jaeger says he never would have given if [Politburo member Guenther] Schabowski hadn't given the press conference four hours earlier [mistakenly saying there was a new policy allowing East Germans to visit the west, effective immediately].

He estimates that more than 20,000 East Berliners on foot and by car crossed into the West at Bornholmer Street. Some curious West Berliners even entered the east.

People crossing hugged and kissed the border guards and handed them bottles of sparkling wine, Jaeger recalls. Several wedding parties from East Berlin moved their celebrations across the border, and a couple of brides even handed the guards their wedding bouquets.

But Jaeger says he refused to leave East Berlin.

"I was on duty," he explains with a laugh. East German officers didn't get permission from their government to cross into the West until just before Christmas, he adds. Red tape involving his travel documents delayed the trip another month.

Read the rest here. If you want a soundtrack for the story, try this:

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  1. They deny it now, but for the left in this country, that was not a good day. We should never let it be forgotten that the left viewed the liberation of millions of people from slavery to the state was a bad thing.

    1. Generalizing about a category as broad as “the left” is unwise. I mean, in 1989 I lived across the dorm hall from the head of the campus chapter of Democratic Socialists of America; I remember how delighted he was when Eastern European communism crumbled. Being in Ann Arbor, I could see a full spectrum of left-wing responses to these events, and while not everyone was happy, quite a few people were.

      1. Jesse, I have only been commenting at Reason for a little over a week, but this problem of generalizing appears to be fairly common.

        1. Most of that is because you are not that bright and try to make up for it by being pedantic.

          1. Is it? I have made an effort to stop focusing on definitions in order to accommodate others, so do you have specific examples of this that I can address?

            I try to back up my claims with evidence and criticize both sides. I have major differences with those on the left and the right, but it does not mean they all or even most of them are closet stalinists/totalitarians or fascists.

            I feel that we don’t need to resort to hysterical claims about these politicians because they do enough to discredit themselves on a daily basis.

            1. Claiming “generalization” is just a sophomoric dodge. If you are talking about a large political movement of any kind there will always be exceptions. I bet if you looked hard enough you could find reasonable well meaning German Nazis. And not every Nazi worked in a death camp. That, however, does not mean you can’t make generalized statements about Nazis being murderers.

              Like I say below, screaming “generalization” is nearly always a sign that the speaker is trying to avoid an unpleasant truth about his or her ideology.

              1. On the other hand, it can also be a tool for obfuscating a broader issue.

                In this case, I don’t think it really adds much to the discussion. Who were the leftists who still supported the Soviet Union? Also, had some of them decided to give it another chance because of Gorbachev’s reforms or had they been consistent supporters even when brutality went unchecked?

                Do you have any polling that shows a majority or a substantial minority of self-designated leftists or even Democrats were upset by the collapse?

                I’m actually curious to learn more about this. I would love to see some data.

                1. I’m actually curious to learn more about this. I would love to see some data.

                  Well, do your own research. That’s what genuinely intellectually curious people do when they encounter claims that don’t seem intuitive to them. They find out for themselves and don’t depend on their interlocutor to do it for them.

                  1. John, made a claim that I consider to be fairly broad and for which I have not encountered supporting evidence over the course of my academic studies or after a brief search, so I didn’t think it would hurt to ask.

                    I may very well look into this issue further, but I would assume John was going off of some kind of hard evidence.

                    1. Well that’s a good attitude to have, in general. However, too many people use it in online discourse as a strategy to dismiss views they don’t agree with knowing that by placing the burden on the other person, that person has to take the time to find the source and by the time he or she does, the mercurial nature of the Internet means the conversation has already moved on to four or five threads away.

                      Not that I necessarily agree with John’s thesis, by the way.

                2. The fact that people like Eric Hobswab or however you spell that idiot’s name or Bruce Cummings were famous and successful leftist intellectuals even though they were outright supporters and apologists for mass murderers adds a lot to the discussion. The fact that not all leftists actively supported communism does not excuse them for not kicking those who did out of the movement.

                  1. How the heck do you kick someone out of ideological movements as broad and ill-defined as “the left” and “the right”. Consider that the Democratic Socialists that Jesse referenced above would repudiate Obama and state that he isn’t truly on the “left”. Is that going to stop many on here from denouncing Obama as leftists from now on. Nope.

                    I think that objectivists espouse certain ideas especially on the conduct of foreign policy that are repugnant, but they are still widely considered to be a part of the larger Libertarian movement.

                    In regards to Hobsbawm, most commentators appear to have taken a nuanced approach to his work and had mixed feelings about his objectivity:


                    I, myself, have never encountered universal and/or uncritical admiration for his works from the leftists I have read. However, I suppose I haven’t read many that remained in the Communist Party for most of their lives. FWIW, it does look like he did rarely acknowledge/mention Soviet atrocities.

                  2. “Human beings are not efficiently designed for a capitalist system of production.”

                    “Utopianism is probably a necessary social device for generating the superhuman efforts without which no major revolution is achieved.”

                    Eric Hobsbawn

                    1. Thanks for the Hobsbawm quotes. What were you trying to get across?

                    2. Hobsbawm ? who later reversed his earlier enthusiasm for Stalin ? was asked in 1994 whether, if communism could have achieved its goals with only 15-20 million deaths, he would have supported it. “Yes,” came his answer.

                      Turd. Burglar.


                    3. I don’t like Hobsbawm at all. What’s your point in relation to me. He was often criticized for his support of communism.

                3. Try Google. I hear it works pretty well.

                  1. As I said, I did do a quick search, but this isn’t necessarily something that lends itself to that.

                    1. The millenial does a quick google search .. the joke writes itself.

                4. Who were the leftists who still supported the Soviet Union?

                  The Spartacus Youth League, who were reviled by the rest of the “left”. And even the SYL’s support was with reservation, referring as they did to the USSR as “the degenerate worker’s state”.

        2. Everybody generalizes!

          1. Sure they do. Some generalization is necessary or you couldn’t debate political subjects. The claim that “that is just a generalization” is mostly just a dodge to avoid an unpleasant truth about whatever team the person saying it is on.

            1. And the gold medal for flying over heads goes to…

      2. Quite a few people were not. And more importantly, the people who were not were never sanctioned or in any way kicked out of the movement. It was always a perfectly acceptable view to hold.

        Yes, Jesse not all of the left was unhappy. And some of the left was in fact happy to see it happen. The problem is a big chunk of it was not. More importantly, the people who claimed to be happy about it never stood up and kicked the people who were unhappy out of the movement or said they were wrong. It was and continues to be a perfectly acceptable view on the left to consider the fall of communism a bad thing.

        Consider it this way Jesse. Libertarians often don’t look at the passage of the CRA as a good thing but they admit the ending of Jim Crow was good even if done by a bad and unnecessary means. But no Libertarian I am aware of believes ending Jim Crow was a bad thing. They just disagree with the means. The people on the left who were unhappy, are exactly analogous to a Libertarian thinking Jim Crow ending was a bad thing. I Libertarians allowed a large group of people who thought Jim Crow was good into the movement, they would at least be condoning the view as legitimate right? Its the same thing with the Left here.

        1. I[f] Libertarians allowed a large group of people who thought Jim Crow was good into the movement

          I’m pretty sure that’s just what Rothbard did…and yet I like Rothbard!

          1. And Libertarians have gotten a lot of flees for lying with that dog. And leftists should get flees from allowing supporters and apologists of mass murder in their movement.

            1. I wholeheartedly agree. Unfortunately, those fleas come from academia and the media.

      3. The left in 2014 is a bit different from the left in 1989.

        1. Yes It is worse. Back then some of them pretended not to support communism.

    2. The left of this country, or any other, would deny that absolute state control of every aspect of one’s life is slavery.

      I was fortunate enough to live in West Berlin in the early ’70’s, and witnessed communism in action first-hand. Because of that, my hatred of communism is so strong, I was actually disappointed that the cold-war ended without turning the Soviet Union into a nuclear wasteland.

      1. So long as people weren’t inhabiting the area at the time?

      2. I lived in Bonn around that time, and I visited Berlin. The Escape Museum was absolutely inspirational.



    Ten reasons why the author is no longer a leftist. Its all true. The best part

    In this online forum, suddenly my only contact with others was the words those others typed onto a screen. That limited and focused means of contact revealed something.

    If you took all the words typed into the forum every day and arranged them according to what part of speech they were, you’d quickly notice that nouns expressing the emotions of anger, aggression, and disgust, and verbs speaking of destruction, punishing, and wreaking vengeance, outnumbered any other class of words.

    One topic thread was entitled “What do you view as disgusting about modern America?” The thread was begun in 2002. Almost eight thousand posts later, the thread was still going strong in June, 2014.

    Those posting messages in this left-wing forumpublicly announced that they did what they did every day, from voting to attending a rally to planning a life, because they wanted to destroy something, and because they hated someone, rather than because they wanted to build something, or because they loved someone. You went to an anti-war rally because you hated Bush, not because you loved peace. Thus, when Obama bombed, you didn’t hold any anti-war rally, because you didn’t hate Obama.

    1. You went to an anti-war rally because you hated Bush, not because you loved peace. Thus, when Obama bombed, you didn’t hold any anti-war rally, because you didn’t hate Obama.

      The differences between the Vietnam-era and Iraq-era anti-war movements is stark. So many member of the modern “left” have become spiteful, hideous creatures.

    2. John, there are/were a ton of hypocrites and partisans attached to the Anti-War movement earlier in the 2000s:

      “A new study by U-M’s Michael Heaney and colleague Fabio Rojas of Indiana University shows that the antiwar movement in the United States demobilized as Democrats, who had been motivated to participate by anti-Republican sentiments, withdrew from antiwar protests when the Democratic Party achieved electoral success, first with Congress in 2006 and then with the presidency in 2008.”…..s-election

      Partisan Republicans are usually not above such behavior either. For instance, they’ll relentlessly focus on scandals like Benghazi, but will never mention the fact that Bush and his ilk almost certainly violated the law on numerous occasions. Often with worse results in terms of human lives lost.

      1. Get off my lawn.

      2. For instance, they’ll relentlessly focus on scandals like Benghazi, but will never mention the fact that Bush and his ilk almost certainly violated the law on numerous occasions.

        Think about what you just said there for a moment. Why does what Bush did or did not do have any relevance to Obama? What you are arguing there is that because Bush did things that were in your view were illegal, Republicans are now prohibited from criticizing Obama’s illegality, as if only a person from one’s own party is qualified to criticize them. That is absolute nonsense. Bush could have stuck people and ovens and that would say absolutely nothing about Obama. More importantly, it would say nothing about the validity of Republican criticism of Obama anymore than Democratic criticism of Bush.

        1. Where the heck did I say it justified Obama’s actions? In fact, Obama failed to fulfill his duty by prosecuting senior officials in the Bush Administration and I believe he should be held accountable for that too.

          Ideally, I would like to see an independent panel composed of legal experts thoroughly investigate the actions of administrations over the last 40 years. We should put it all out in the open.

          My point is that there are blatant hypocrites on both sides. You apparently love to focus exclusively on the Dems and the left.

          1. My point is that there are blatant hypocrites on both sides

            So what? The author’s point is that the left is driven by hate. So your point doesn’t respond to his. I was giving you the benefit of the doubt assuming it was.

            Yes many people of all stripes are hypocritical or at least not as fair judging their own side as they should be. That, however, does not in anyway reflect on the point made by the author.

            1. May I suggest you focus on them too then? I may be wrong about this, but you seem to focus almost exclusively on one side. It also happens to be the side that receives the brunt of criticism among commenters here. To be fair, the Dems have held greater political power recently and done a terrible job, but I do think some are getting a bit carried away in their rhetoric. I feel like I’m surrounded by more angry Republicans than libertarians.

              1. Sure, if you want to show that the right is motivated by hate. It doesn’t let the left off the hook, however.

                But talking about how the right can be hypocritical isn’t even a proper moral equivalency.

                And there are plenty of criticism to be made of the right. And lots of threads for that to be done. But when those threads happen, claiming “the left is just as bad” is just someone trying to take the thread off of a fact they don’t like, just like you are doing here, albeit not every successfully.

                1. Just like some on “the left” there are also some on “the right” that are motivated by hate. I really don’t think this a controversial claim, but I can definitely find you anecdotal evidence (what the FrontPage Mag/American Thinker piece mostly relies on) to support my contention.

                  John, my contention is that their hypocrisy usually stems from hatred for or a strong dislike of the other side.

                  I wouldn’t have posted the Michigan study if I was uncomfortable with the fact that there are those on the left or those in the Democratic Party that only participated in Anti-War rallies because they hated Bush/the GOP.

                  1. The . You agree with me. So stop posting irelevent points.

                    1. So you agree that the hypocrisy demonstrated by Republicans in regards to the illegal conduct of the Bush Administration is evidence of widespread hatred of the other side?

  3. I realize “the drugs helped” and all, but it must have been absolutely terrifying for Sid to have to go up there and play an instrument that, at best, he just recently learned how to play.

    Steve Jones likely had the hardest job in show business for a while.

    1. It was up there. Even Jones wasn’t a particularly great musician. I don’t care what his fans say. But Jones at least could play some, which put him light years ahead of the rest of the band.

  4. It takes a total shithead to cheer his government putting up a wall to keep people in the country. Fuck you, Harald Jaeger. You’re the kind of brainless thug that makes totalitarianism possible.


    1. It burns me up that a vicious murderer like Harald Jaeger is being hailed as some kind of here for “allowing” people to leave east Berlin. That’s like saying the prison guards at Dachau should honored for killing fewer people that the guards at Auschwitz. Jaeger should be hanged, not interviewed for this article.

  5. I’m immensely relieved that clicking on the Youtube didn’t result in Jesus Jones or the Scorpions. Your reputation for musical taste remains intact.

  6. OT: I just got back from a Nichiren Buddhist meeting. That chanting stuff gets annoying fast. It was fun to watch the kids squirm around. I think kids hating church is a cultural universal. They referred to their kids as fortune babies because they were lucky to be born into.

    Afterwards, there was a traditional Buddhist meal of Cheetos and hot dogs. I asked the prayer leader why they chant in Japanese if the oldest Buddhist teachings are in Sanskrit, why chant in Japanese?


    The only interesting thing I heard is why Buddhists like the lotus flower- it’s something beautiful that comes out of mud. There was one other interesting thing- one of the kids baked something for her dad. The dad said he had never had a cake with mayo in it before. The kid said “I thought that was whipped cream.”

    Huh. Larry. Us.

    I continue to pursue derp in all its forms.

    nam myoho renge derp.

  7. Now watching Sam Harris test the limits of human patience in a shoutfest with Cenk Uyghur. Cenk is blaming the Holocaust on Christianity, Uh, sure pal.

    The Christians persecuted the Jews for centuries, but Jesus never advocated genocide.

    1. Maybe, but his Dad sure as hell did.

    2. I mean, the Jews should talk. Their sacred texts say God punished David for not finishing the job of the Canaanite genocide.

    3. Aren’t Jesus and Yahweh essentially one and the same? Yahweh clearly orders genocide in the Old Testament, so it’s kind of complicated.

      Of course, it probably never happened, but…

    4. And oh yeah- who put a stop to the Holocaust? Other Christians!

      1. Incidentally, the Soviets did too…

    5. Everyone should immediately respond by bringing up the Turkish genocide of the Armenians.

      1. Anatolia was once dominated by Christians. It was simply an expression of the ideological residue.

        1. Armenians are Christians ar-tard.

          1. I was joking

    6. You know who else was blamed for the holocaust?

    7. For the record, this is a guy who denies the Armenian Genocide and purposely named his show after the perpetrators of that genocide.

      Not sure he was “blaming” the Holocaust on anyone – it seems to be the kind of thing he likes.

  8. I’m drinking K?lsch to celebrate this happy anniversary. Later I’ll watch “Das Leben der Anderen”.

  9. I was on guard duty at the Babenhausen Kaserne (1/27 Field artillery) in West Germnay when this happened. I remember the next day, or there abouts, one of those East German Trabant cars drove by. They waived. I waived back. The Seargent of the Guard saw me and admonished me not to “aid and comfort” the enemy and if he caught me doing again, he’d see that I was court marshaled.

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