Most of you younger people won't remember that day because they weren't born, and even my memories aren't all that clear because I was really too young to care.
Still, today marks the 20th annversary of the fall of the Iron Curtain, or more precisely: The patrolled border in between the two German countries, including the Berlin Wall.
As you should know from either history class or own experience, the world - especially Europe - was divided between communism and capitalism, or East and West, after WWII. Germany was hit particularly hard, as it was divided into two separate countries (German Democratic Republic [GDR] in the east and Federal Republic of Germany [FRG] in the west), and since August 13, 1961 separated by a wall, that was tightly patrolled by border guards from the east who wouldn't hesitate to shoot anyone trying to get near the border. It was extremely difficult for people from the East to be allowed to see the West. Lots of beaurocracy involved, they needed a reason, they could only go alone so the government could be sure they'd return to the East if their family members would remain in the East (I know, because I had relatives in the East back then).
The 'West' and the 'East' engaged in the Cold War (armed to their teeth, spies, attempts at deceiving each other, competition in sports and in the run into space), and while both blocks were relatively equal in terms of economic success and standard of living for the respective population in the 50s and 60s, the situation worsened in the communist countries in the 70s and 80s. It became more and more apparent that communism as practiced in those countries does not work. People got increasingly unhappy with the situation, but due to the Iron Curtain couldn't just leave. And any political opposition was impossible due to secret services keeping a close eye on any such people.
However, while the Soviet Union tried to rework their system (look up "glasnost" and "Perestroika" on Google), the political leaders in Eastern Germany tried to suppress any kind of political opposition by force. In early 1989, the leaders still tried to strike down any demonstrations against the government, but on Oct 9th, 1989 more than 70,000 people held a demonstration in Dresden shouting the famous slogan "We are the People" ("Wir sind das Volk"), and the police force eventually decided to leave them alone. From that day onward, it was absolutely clear that the communist government would be gone soon...but no one knew how soon!
People kept demonstrating in the weeks thereafter, increasing the pressure on the government to change something. So on November 9th, 1989 the communist government of the GDR (east) decided to relieve some of the pressure by allowing people to go visiting the West without any of the usual restrictions. On the evening of that day, GŁnter Schabowski (who had become Secretary of Information of the Communist Party just 5 days earlier) held a press conference and read out a declaration from the communist government: "Private trips abroad can, from now on, be applied for without any kind of requirements (relatives in the west or any other reason for traveling)". One of the journalists asked "When does that go into effect?", to which Schabowski had no answer, so he stuttered, hesitated, shuffled his papers and said "As far as I know, immediately".
The rest was history, as they say. People flocked to the border crossings to be allowed to visit the west, and the border patrol people had no choice but to simply open the gates and let people through. Obviously, that was not what the communist government had in mind. They wanted to relieve pressure and work towards a controlled change. Guess it didn't work!
It took almost another 11 months until the two German states were reunited (Oct 3rd, 1990)...or more precisely: The GDR formally ceased to exist and the terroritory it once comprised joined the Federal Republic.
And that's how a poorly prepared speech changed history.
So...after this history lesson: What's your opinion? Do you have any memories of this day (if you're old enough)? Any opinion on the issue at hand?