First chinks in the Iron Curtain
25 years ago, German unification and the fall of the Iron Curtain began in Hungary. In May 1989, six months before the Berlin Wall fell, the Hungarian government demolished the security barricades at its Austrian border.
The beginning of the end
On May 2, 1989, Hungarian officials tore down the fences at the Austrian border. The fences were corroded and Prime Minister Miklos Nehmet didn't want to pay for their replacement. In any case, the Hungarian government was unhappy about the security installations: Two years earlier a report had already described them as technically, politically and morally outdated.
A fake fence for the media
Just a few weeks later, Hungarian Foreign Minister Gyula Horn and his Austrian colleague Alois Mock wanted to make a show of cutting the fence for the media. But in order to perform this historic act, on June 27, 1989, a piece of fence had to be reinstated as the entire security installation had already been removed.
The East German leadership was not happy about the Hungarians' move, but the Budapest resisted the pressure. Then, on August 19, 1989, the Pan-European Union and members of the Hungarian opposition invited people to come to a "Pan-European Picnic" near the border town of Sopron - during which the border to Austria was opened for three hours.
Border crossing to freedom
It had been announced that a delegation would cross the Hungarian-Austrian border. However, on the day more than 600 East German citizens, who had found out about the event from leaflets, stormed the border to cross into Austria, taking with them only what they could carry. Some families with children also seized the opportunity to abandon their Communist home.
Border official's crucial decision
The chief Hungarian border official in Sopron, Arpad Bella, saw the hundreds of people escaping to the West during the Pan-European Picnic. Bella (left in the photo, with an Austrian colleague at a memorial plaque in 2009) ordered his guards not to shoot, preventing what could have been a massacre. Many of his colleagues considered him a traitor, but he was later honored for his actions.
We've made it!
The refugees who made it across the border to Austria on August 19, 1989, were overjoyed. A flood of East Germans followed them to Hungary, aiming to take the same route to the West. The Hungarian government tried to discuss the problem with the East German leadership, which refused to negotiate an official solution. Between August and November 1989 more than 50,000 people crossed the border.
A historic day
82 days after the Pan-European Picnic the Iron Curtain was finally torn down. November 9, 1989, went down in history as the date of the fall of the Berlin Wall.