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Mass Demonstration on Alexanderplatz in East Berlin (November 4, 1989)

Unsatisfied with SED promises, as many as 500,000 people gathered in East Berlin on November 4, 1989, to call for further efforts to democratize socialism. They heard apologetic speeches by reform communists and critical appeals by intellectuals.

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Christa Wolf, Christoph Hein, and Steffie Spira at the Berlin Demonstration, November 4, 1989

Christa Wolf, Author:

My dear fellow citizens: Every revolutionary movement also liberates the language. Suddenly, that which has been so difficult to say up to now rolls freely from our lips. It amazes us to hear what we have apparently been thinking all along, and what we can now shout out loud: Democracy now or never! And we mean people power. We can remember the attempts in our history which faltered or were beaten down, and we don’t want, yet again, to sleep through the opportunity presented by this crisis which has awakened all our productive strength (applause).

I have my problems with the word “turn.” I see a sailboat and the captain shouts “Prepare to come about,” since the wind has turned or is blowing in his face (applause).

And the crew ducks as the boom sweeps across the deck. But does this image still apply today? Does it still apply in this situation, which is moving further each day? I would speak of revolutionary renewal (applause). Revolutions begin at the bottom. Top and bottom are reversed in the value system, turning the socialist society upside-down, back onto its feet. Major social movements are growing (applause); people in our country have never before spoken so much as in the last few weeks. Never before really spoken with each other, with such passion, such anger and sadness, but also with such hope. We want to use each and every day; we are not sleeping much, if at all. We are getting to know people we have never met before. And we are painfully struggling with others whom we thought we knew. So this is called “dialogue.” We demanded it, and now we can hardly stand hearing the word. But we have yet to learn what the word “dialogue” really means. We stare distrustfully at hands suddenly outstretched before us, and at faces that used to be so unmoving. Distrust is good, control is better (applause).

We are reversing old slogans which have hurt and oppressed us; they are being returned to sender. We are afraid of being exploited, used. And we are afraid of turning down a genuine offer. Our whole country now faces this dilemma. And we have to practice the art, not to let this dilemma become a confrontation. We will be given these few weeks, these opportunities, only once, and by ourselves (applause).

We are surprised to see the agile ones, the ones now popularly called the wrynecks [Wendehälse] (applause). According to the dictionary, they can adapt quickly and easily to any new situation, responding with skill and knowing how to use it to their advantage. It is these opportunists, I believe, who undermine the credibility of the new policies the most (applause). Alas, we are not yet at the point where we can take them with humor, as we can in other situations. “Free-riders, step down!” I have read on banners. And heard the yells of demonstrators to the police: “Take your uniforms off and join us!” (applause).

I must say, that’s a generous offer. And we are thinking economically as well: “Legal security saves on State Security” (loud applause).

And today I saw an absolutely unbelievable slogan on a banner: “No more privileges for us Berliners” (applause).

Indeed, the language is bursting out of the bureaucratic and newspaper German in which it has been wrapped for so long, and recalling its emotional, expressive vocabulary. One such word is “dream.” Let us dream with an alert sense of reason: Imagine there was socialism and no one ran away! (loud applause).

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