In autumn 1989 tens of thousands of citizens of the GDR demonstrated every Monday in Leipzig and other cities for political change. One of the main demands was the suspension of travel restrictions especially to the West.
The claim for freedom to travel prompted the leadership of the governing Socialist Union Party (SED) to publish a draft for new regulations, which, however, was seen as insufficient by the majority of the people. In order to contain the increasing pressure from the public, an interim solution was introduced to facilitate travelling until legislation would have been finalised.
A last-minute draft for an “Interim solution for travels and permanent departures from the GDR” was discussed on 9 November 1989 during the 10th Congress of the Central Committee of the SED. The draft was accepted with just some minor changes. Günter Schabowski, a member of the Politbüro, was supposed to announce the decision during the international press conference about the Congress, although not having been present during this discussion.
While at the press conference, Schabowski nearly forgot about the decision, until an Italian correspondent asked about the insufficient draft for a new Travel Act. After having browsed hectically through his papers, Schabowski found the notes, which Egon Krenz, the Secretary-General of the SED, had handed him earlier. He read the wording not knowing that it was initially supposed to be announced only the next day, 10 November 1989, and neither the government nor the East German border troops had any instructions yet.
Live broadcasting of the press conference by East German television and the direct response and further distribution of the sensational news about “open borders” by Western media led to thousands of people from East Berlin going to the Wall and forcing its prompt opening.
Schabowski’s notes are held by the “Foundation Archives of Parties and Mass Organisations of the GDR in the Federal Archives” and are registered in UNESCO’s World Document Heritage list. They are part of the minutes’ draft from the Politbüro’s meeting held during the 10th Congress of the Central Committee of the Socialist Union Party. They are the authentic equivalent of the actual notes, which were handed to Schabowski by Krenz and are believed to be lost.
In the text, handwritten changes can be seen. Especially the fact that the terms “temporal” and “interim” had been crossed out was crucial for the fall of the Berlin Wall.