The Flow of Refugees Stops

16. September 2014

Christian Bürger’s Diary, 8th Entry

30. September 1989

“We’ve got to find a solution. If we’re here another week, or if just a handful of new refugees arrive, then I really fear pandemonium will break out. So far we’ve been spared some outbreak of illness. But for how much longer? Hygiene is simply not possible. We’re constantly stuck rubbing shoulders and no one has a chance to wash properly. On top of which I’m constantly having to give interviews on behalf of all of us and tell the Western TV stations what the status is. It’s always the same questions, and you’ve always got to be friendly, upbeat, never seem exhausted or angry. Last Saturday I registered the last set of refugees. En route to Herr Weber’s office I could hardly make my way through the crowds. I wouldn’t be surprised if I don’t end up succumbing to claustrophobia here.

“The moment we’ve waited for for months will be today. Genscher will fulfil our hopes. Or dash them.”

When I handed over the day’s registration slips to Herr Weber I said there was absolutely zero point in continuing to do so. I wasn’t even sure whether everyone was registered anyway. Because at the latest with the 4,000th registration I had lost sight of who was here anyway, who I’d already written down, and who was new. I was expecting Weber would simply sweep my objections aside and repeat what Ambassador Huber had hitherto declared was policy: “And if we have to accept 6,000, then that’s the way it is.” Instead, Weber patted me on the shoulder and said: “Right. Then close your office.” He was very understanding and knew I wouldn’t dream of stopping the inflow of refugees if I didn’t discern real serious dangers to the safety of people in the embassy.

Video Diary Episode 8

Before we parted company, I asked him to get me a megaphone. As otherwise I’d have little chance of anyone hearing me given the huge crowds. This morning I dropped by his office again. “Any word on the megaphone for me?” Weber looked up at me, his eyes somehow glassed over, as if he didn’t really see me. He looked right through me when he answered: “You’re not going to need one.” “Huh? I’m not going to need one? There are thousands of people here! What if someone urgently needs assistance, or there’s something important I gotta …” Out of nowhere Weber interrupted me. “Genscher’s on his way here,” he said. I didn’t really follow his drift. Genscher? Why should he be dropping by? “So? Genscher’s on his way?” Only when I utter the words do I really get what Weber has just told me. The moment we’ve waited for for months will be today. Genscher will fulfil our hopes. Or dash them.

“Well, it’s not like he’d come here empty-handed,” Weber adds, before I leave his office. When I pushed my way through the crowds not a few people asked me if I was OK. I didn’t respond. How should I know if everything’s OK? Either everything’s OK or nothing is. I guess we’ll find out this afternoon. I’m finding it hard to write this down. I’m so worked up my hand’s shaking.”


Manuela Beckmann, East German Refugee

Manuela Beckmann decided to flee East Germany when her second attempt to get a visa failed. She and her boyfriend made it to the embassy in Prague, and finally she was in one of the trains that travelled through East Germany to the West. The route happened to pass right by her parent’s home. When she looked out of the window she saw her father with an umbrella standing in the field. He knew that his daughter must be in one of the trains. She did not see her family again until Christmas 1989. Today, Mrs. Beckmann is a sales director and lives with her family in Eckental.


So there I stood with my tea cup, I seem to remember losing it somewhere, I’m not sure, because the crowds below the balcony continued to grow, everyone had gathered there, we saw how large spotlights were being installed at the back on the pillars, there were cameras, too, it was amazingly exciting, and there we stood and asked ourselves what would happen next, and at about 7 p.m., well it was already dark, and then Mr. Genscher came out on the balcony and uttered what is now the truly famous sentence, well it was a really emotional moment, because he hadn’t even finished his sentence and were we all embracing one another, kissing, hugging, people we’d never met before, not that it mattered. There was such euphoria. And I was standing directly beneath it all. So I could see him and it was an overwhelming feeling.

German Embassy in Prague
Christian Bürger floh im Juni 1989 in die Bundesdeutsche Botschaft in Prag. Er half der Botschaftsleitung bei der Organisation und Erfassung der Flüchtlinge. Er verbrachte nach der Ankunft in Hof ein paar Jahre in Dingolfing und arbeitete in der Gastronomie. Heute lebt er wieder in Chemnitz.

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