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Prague refugee crisis remembered

September 30, 2014

A former foreign minister of West Germany has met with 1989's East German refugees in Prague; and commemorated events that led to communism's collapse in Eastern Europe.

Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/Petr David Josek

Germany’s foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and the former foreign minister of West Germany, Hans-Dieter Genscher (pictured center), gathered on Tuesday morning in the gardens of the country's embassy in Prague. In 1989 thousands of refugees had crowded into the grounds, trying to escape East Germany. The two men were in the Czech capital to commemorate the liberation of thousands of asylum seekers and meet with some of the former East German citizens who had sought asylum in the West German embassy.

Genscher and some 150 of the former refugees finally had the chance to meet face to face. Many thanked West Germany’s then top diplomat personally for his efforts.

Genscher struck a deal with Russia and GDR authorities to allow the thousands of East German citizens who sought refuge at the embassy in Prague to emigrate to the West. On September 30, 1989, Genscher told them the news from the embassy's balcony.

The moment Europe was 'born again'

Genscher said he is still moved when he enters the rooms of Lobkowicz Palace. When he had stepped onto the balcony to inform the gathered refugees that their passage to the West had been arranged, he managed to utter only half a sentence before he was drowned out by cheering.

"At that moment Europe was born again," Genscher said Tuesday. "For me it was the most beautiful and happiest day of my political career."

Later that year, communist regimes in the region began falling in a wave of mostly peaceful revolutions. That led to the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, and to Germany’s eventual reunification.

Genscher also thanked the embassy staff who had "done really exemplary work" in making life easier for the thousands squashed into the embassy grounds.

The 87-year-old former politician added that only in unity could there be a future for Europe.

crh/dr (AP, AFP, dpa, epd)