How Hungary Let East Germans Go 2009: Hungary Stone

How Hungary let East Germans go

“It was in Hungary that the first stone was removed from the Berlin Wall,” said the former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl.
His successor Angela Merkel went to the Hungarian town of Sopron on Wednesday, to thank the country for opening its border 20 years ago. That decision led to the fall of the Wall three months later. But curiously enough, it was a picnic in a field outside Sopron that would change the face of Europe. In the summer of 1989, thousands of East German “tourists” had been making their way to Hungary, looking for a way to cross into Austria. What drew them was a bold decision taken earlier that year by the reformist prime minister Miklos Nemeth to start dismantling the security system along the border. “I thought it was obsolete in the 20th Century,” Mr Nemeth told the BBC. Another reason was that Hungary, heavily in debt, simply could not afford to pay $1m to maintain it. As he returned from holiday in his official car, Mr Nemeth was shocked to see hundreds of young people and families camping outside the West German consulate in Budapest. Others had found refuge in the imposing Holy Family Church in a leafy district of the Hungarian capital. Among them was Robert Breitner, who was 19. He arrived with just the clothes on his back, after losing his backpack in a failed escape attempt.
“The street was full of East German cars,” he recalls.

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