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GDR: everything that is not forbidden is compuslory

Because I was living in Hungary, I was able to visit the GDR regularly and was given permission to stay in private homes, which I did in Dresden and East Berlin.

Visiting East Germany was like stepping into an alternate universe where they had almost everything that West Germany had , but it was uglier, smaller, and made from a lot more polyester. Indeed, Berlin´s Alexanderplatz, which the Honecker regime thought was their showplace, looked like a aluminum siding showroom.

Because hundreds of thousands of East Germans had been fleeing every year, in 1961 they erected the wall in Berlin and fences around the rest of the country. In early 1989, Erich Honecker, party chief, said the Berlin Wall would last for fifty and one hundred years. I think he missed that one.

Erich Honecker, head of the SED (Socialist Unity Party of Germany), at a reception in East Berlin. November, 1988.

GDR: "Ab sofort..."

In March 1989, I was staying in the flat of an administrator of Humboldt University in East Berlin and I asked Frau Albrecht if I could buy her anything in West Berlin. She went to the bathroom and showed me a plastic hairbrush with a broken handle and asked if I could buy her a new one. “Of course,” I said. Then suddenly, she threw it on the floor and said, “Do you see what we are reduced to? I have to ask someone to buy me a hairbrush!” And she burst into tears and rushed out of the room.

A moment later she returned, apologized, and I tried to explain to her how angry it made me when the new David Hasselhoff single, “Looking for Freedom,” came on the radio.

The picture was taken at exactly 7:00 PM on 10 September, just when Hungarian foreign minister Gyula Horn announced on television they were free to leave.

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