putting people first

by experientia
by experientia
10 November 2009

CNN’s Christiane Amanpour interviews Jan-Christoph Zoels

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putting people first
by experientia

Jan-Christoph Zoels
Check out Experientia partner Jan-Christoph Zoels’s superb appearance on CNN’s Christiane Amanpour show yesterday… vividly describing how as an opposition member, he was among the first East Germans to cross into West Berlin for the first time when the Germans messed up their plans, and inadvertently started letting people through.

Christiane said she loved it, we were told.

This show, which is available in 250 million homes and businesses around the world and started off with Jan-Christoph’s vivid recollections, can be seen online here.

Here is his written recollection of the events, now twenty years ago:

“My memories of November 9th, 2009

It was a very dark Thursday night. I was one of the first few hundred who waited at the checkpoint Bornholmer Strasse to go and see West Berlin.

And here’s why:

That evening a group of writers and artists met at the house of one of the co-founders of the “Neues Forum” – New Forum – the first independent political movement of East Germany. The assembled group was the communications brain of the organization. Together we had prepared leaflets, posters, and press statements.

During the meeting that evening we discussed the cryptic announcement by the central committee of the communist party of East Germany. We knew that changes would be happening to the travel permissions of people who wanted to leave East Germany forever. What surprised us that evening was that the general traveling rights for everybody would be expanded – like the right to get a visa to visit the West…

About 22.00 I left home to work on a press statement for the next morning. My best friend Sabine came about 22.50 and asked me to get whatever western money I had and come with her by bike to the checkpoint Bornholmer Strasse. She said that West German TV had just announced that people could now visit the West, even though very few were able to get through.

We raced with our bicycles to the checkpoint ca 10 min away and arrived at a waiting crowd of several hundred people – shouting to open the wall. Ca 30-45 later we were let through a small gate, our passports were stamped (originally to prevent us from re-entering), then we went through a row of border facilities, and arrived on a bridge leading to West Berlin.

On this evening, I saw many people crying. I clearly remember another friend and co-founder of the opposition movement, a scientist, weeping like a child, as we moved through the border.

Sabine and I persuaded a taxi driver to take us nearly for free to our best West Berliner friends. After many years of their visits we were finally able to reciprocate. We laughed, cried, toasted to this new won feeling.

Later that night I went to see Reie, the sister of my former girlfriend. Reie had left East Germany some years earlier and was forbidden to re-enter. Together with her boyfriend Sascha A, later identified as a spy for the secret service STASI, we drove through Berlin by night, climbed the wall on the Brandenburg Gate, gathered some friends and celebrated through the night.

The next morning Reie drove me back to the check point to go to work. I arrived late to the private design studio in which I worked. My boss welcomed me with the statement, “The fall of wall is not a reason to come too late to work”. I knew then I would change work soon.”

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