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30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall: 'It was the worst night of my life', says last …

by ace
30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall: 'It was the worst night of my life', says last ...

This is one of the weirdest guided tours I've ever attended. I'm driving through the streets of Berlin with Egon Krenz – East Germany's last communist leader.

"This avenue used to be called 'Stalin Avenue'!" He tells me as we walk down Karl Marx Avenue. "They renamed it after Stalin died."

"And there was Lenin Square. There was a big statue of Lenin. But they knocked it down."

He looks out the window and smiles. "The German Democratic Republic (GDR) built it all."

Krenz, a smiling 82-year-old man, is in much better condition than the country he once ran. The German Democratic Republic (known in the west as East Germany) no longer exists. Thirty years after the tumultuous events of 1989 and the fall of the Berlin Wall, the communist leader agreed to meet me.

Why Krenz Loved the Soviet Union

Because of Krenz's poor English fluency and my weak command of the German language, we are communicating in Russian. It's a language he knows well. Krenz needed: The GDR was a satellite state of Moscow.

Life in East Germany: In October 1989, the statue of Lenin was still on Lenin Square in East Berlin - Photo: Getty Images / BBC

Life in East Germany: In October 1989, the statue of Lenin was still on Lenin Square in East Berlin – Photo: Getty Images / BBC

"I love Russia and the Soviet Union," he tells me. "I still have a lot of contacts there. The GDR was a cub of the Soviet Union. The USSR was next to the cradle of the GDR. And, unfortunately, it was also by the deathbed."

For communist Russia, East Germany was its outpost in Europe. The Soviet Union had 800 military garrisons in the GDR and half a million soldiers.

"Whether we were in power or not, we saw the Soviet troops as our friends," says Krenz.

But, I ask him, what was the benefit of being part of the Soviet empire?

"This phrase 'part of the Soviet empire' … is a typical western terminology," he replies. "In the Warsaw Pact, we saw ourselves as Moscow's partners. Although, of course, the Soviet Union had the final say."

How Krenz Reached the Top

Born in 1937, the son of a tailor, Egon Krenz quickly climbed the steps of the communist hierarchy.

"I was a Young Pioneer. Then a member of the Free German Youth. Then I joined the Party of Socialist Unity. Then I became party leader. I went through all the stages."

For many years, he was seen as the "young prince" – future successor to veteran East German leader Erich Honecker.

But by the time he replaced Honecker in October 1989, the ruling party was already losing power.

Three thousand people protested against the Communist leader on October 24, 1989 - Photo: Getty Images / BBCThree thousand people protested against the Communist leader on October 24, 1989 - Photo: Getty Images / BBC

Three thousand people protested against the Communist leader on October 24, 1989 – Photo: Getty Images / BBC

From Poland to Bulgaria, popular power was beginning to sweep the eastern bloc. East Germany was no exception.

A week before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Krenz flew to Moscow for urgent talks with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

"Gorbachev told me that the people of the Soviet Union saw the East Germans as their brothers," he said.

Looking back on his first visit to Moscow as a communist leader, Egon Krenz believes he was betrayed; in the photo with Mikhail Gorbachev, 1 November 1989 - Photo: Getty Images / BBCLooking back on his first visit to Moscow as a communist leader, Egon Krenz believes he was betrayed; in the photo with Mikhail Gorbachev, 1 November 1989 - Photo: Getty Images / BBC

Looking back on his first visit to Moscow as a communist leader, Egon Krenz believes he was betrayed; in the photo with Mikhail Gorbachev, 1 November 1989 – Photo: Getty Images / BBC

"And he said that after the Soviets, the GDR people he loved the most. So I asked, 'Do you still see yourself as a father figure to the GDR?' 'Of course, Egon,' he said. 'If you refer to a possible reunification in Germany, this is not on the agenda.'

"At the time, I thought Gorbachev was sincere. That was my mistake."

Do you believe the Soviet Union betrayed you? I ask.

How East Germany came to an end

On November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. Crowds of East Germans partying crossed the newly opened border.

"It was the worst night of my life," Krenz recalls. "I wouldn't want to try it again. When Western politicians say it was a celebration of the people, I understand that. But I took full responsibility. At such a moment of emotion, like that, if someone had been killed in that that night we could have been engulfed in a military conflict between great powers. "

East Berliners climbed the Wall on November 9, 1989, knocking down the Iron Curtain in Germany - Photo: Reuters / BBCEast Berliners climbed the Wall on November 9, 1989, knocking down the Iron Curtain in Germany - Photo: Reuters / BBC

East Berliners climbed the Wall on November 9, 1989, knocking down the Iron Curtain in Germany – Photo: Reuters / BBC

A month after the fall of the wall, Krenz resigned as East German leader. The following year East and West Germany met. And the GDR ended up in the history books.

It was not long before the Soviet Union itself collapsed. But in Eastern Europe, Mikhail Gorbachev – unlike Egon Krenz – is seen as a hero for allowing the "iron curtain" to be torn down.

The Berlin Wall has divided the city for almost 30 years - Photo: Getty Images / BBCThe Berlin Wall has divided the city for almost 30 years - Photo: Getty Images / BBC

The Berlin Wall has divided the city for almost 30 years – Photo: Getty Images / BBC

Speaking to me in 2013, the former Soviet president said: "I am often accused of giving up Central and Eastern Europe. But to whom did I turn her over? I returned Poland, for example, to the Poles. To whom else would she belong? ? "

Krenz had lost power and his country.

Then he lost his freedom.

In 1997, Krenz was convicted of manslaughter by East Germans attempting to flee across the Berlin Wall. He spent four years in prison.

'The Cold War is never over'

Egon Krenz is still interested in politics. And still supports Moscow.

"After weak presidents like Gorbachev and Yeltsin, it is fortunate for Russia to have (President Vladimir) Putin."

He insists that the Cold War never ended, but instead "is now being waged with different methods."

Today, Krenz lives a quiet life on the Baltic Sea coast in Germany.

"I still get a lot of letters and phone calls from grandchildren from the GDR citizens. They say their grandparents would love it if I wished them a happy birthday. Sometimes people come over and ask me for an autograph or to take a selfie."

As we get out of the car in central Berlin, a history teacher and his group of students come to us. It's their lucky day.

"We are on a school trip, we came from Hamburg to study the history of the GDR," the teacher tells Krenz. "It's amazing to have you here with us now, as a living witness. How was it for you when the Wall fell?"

"It wasn't a carnival," Krenz replied. "It was a very dramatic night."

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