"We didn’t. East Germany was an attempt to turn Utopia into reality. And it created a lot of victims," he said last month.
The new Utopia that many of his compatriots thought might be opening up to them as they drove their puttering Trabant cars
past the glittering store-fronts of wealthy West Berlin
has also proved illusory, however, and 10 years on a united Germany
, let alone a united Europe, is still very much a work in progress.
Surprise magnified the explosion of joy that chilled Thursday night in Berlin
10 years ago, though for some, the writing had been on the Berlin Wall since Mikhail Gorbachev
had begun trying to make communism more viable in the Soviet Union
The dictatorial government of Erich Honecker
in East Berlin
, still unhappy with Gorbachev’s cautious "Perestroika" reforms. But despite its pervasive secret police, the Stasi, it was unable to suppress growing protests at home and demands for change.
, Honecker’s heir apparent, eased out the aging autocrat on Oct. 18 and determined to try to save the situation by conceding some reforms, most notably by restoring the freedom to travel to the West that had been halted so ruthlessly by the building of the Wall in 1961.
"It was too little, too late," Krenz concedes now. He is battling to stave off a lengthy jail term for his role in the deaths of those gunned down by border guards along the Wall.
Krenz never planned for the dramatic events of Nov. 9 and blames Schabowski for bungling the announcement of the new travel freedoms at a news conference in the early evening.
A new travel regime, complete with the traditional panoply of visas and form filling, was supposed to come into force the following day, the 10th.
But, put on the spot by journalists about when the checkpoints would be opening, Schabowski blurted out: "Right away." The effect was electric.
The rush to freedom
Schabowski denies making a mistake. But thousands of East Berliners began crowding the checkpoints on the Wall within minutes of his televised remarks to be met with uncomprehending armed frontier troops who had been given no orders.
Mercifully, they held their fire and, under the pressure of the moment, finally gave up all efforts to stem the tide. "We cannot hold the frontier any longer. I’m letting the people through," the commander of the Bornholmerstrasse crossing point told his commanding officer by telephone as he raised the barrier, believed to be the first, shortly before 11pm.
"The Wall is down! The Wall is down!" ran the cry across both halves of the divided city of 3.5 million.
In that instant the 155km of wall, the "Anti-Fascist Protective Barrier," around the democratic enclave of West Berlin became so much scrap concrete and barbed wire.
The people of the German Democratic Republic
, the DDR, had voted with their feet as they were to vote in free elections four months later, demanding reunification with the West.
Honecker, only the second East German leader after the Soviet-trained Walter Ulbricht
, fled to Moscow
and later Chile
to escape retribution. He died in 1994.
Free East German elections in March 1990 were an overwhelming vote for reunification, joining two halves that were split asunder when Moscow and the West fell out over the ruins left by Hitler after 1945.
Stamps of approval
The four WWII victors — the Soviet Union, United States, Britain and France — gave their blessing despite misgivings in some quarters at the revival of a greater Germany.
The hugs and kisses between strangers, the bottles of wine passed across the Wall in the delirium of Nov. 9 consigned Krenz and his Politburo to history. But while Germans east and west celebrated, it was not clear what would happen elsewhere.
Yet once the precedent was set, once others saw that the Russian army battalions had stayed their barracks, there was no stopping a revolution that swept across eastern Europe.
As in Berlin, it was largely without bloodshed, though Romania
, in December 1990 proved an exception.
Gorbachev, who started it all, got little thanks outside the West and in 1991 had to give way to Boris Yeltsin
as the Soviet Union itself broke up into 15 states of varying stability.
The former Soviet leader, who warned Honecker just a month before the Wall fell that the end was approaching, summed up the impotence of those communist leaders in the face of discontent at the material and spiritual shortcomings of their societies.
"Nobody expected it would happen and quite a few did not want it to happen," he told Reuters last month. "History kicked in because Germans found each other, sweeping everything away."