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Night of Nights… November 9, 1989

While still a student at the Academy for Film and Television in Potsdam-Babelsberg, documentary director Andreas Voigt shot the film portrait Alfred (1986). This was followed by People with Landscape (1988). Leipzig in the Fall (1989), for which he and co-director Gerd Kroske received international recognition, is part of the DEFA Film Library’s WENDE FLICKS series. Since 1991, Voigt has worked as a freelance director, scriptwriter and producer. His films, such as ILLEGAL—Invisible in Europe (2004) and Les Nomades du Cercle Polaire (2008), have been presented at many international festivals and received numerous awards.

Andreas Voigt

I was in the middle of possibly the most exciting shoot of my life. We had been filming the Monday demonstrations on the streets of Leipzig since October 16. It was a film we named Leipzig in the Fall, which later became the beginning of my Leipzig Series.

Months before, when all this was not foreseeable, I had received an invitation from the West. My films People with Landscape and Alfred were to be shown in a movie theater in Bochum. Of course, I wanted to go. And I had gotten a permit from the DEFA Documentary Film Studio, where I worked.

The event took place on the evening of November 9. After the screening, Christoph Hübner, a West German colleague, said “Come on—we’re going to my place to have a glass of wine.” When we got there, the Tagesthemen news show happened to be on TV. It was exactly that scene that has since become historic, in which SED Politburo member Schabowski pulls a note out of his pants pocket and—in answer to a question from a Western journalist about when the relaxed travel regulations announced by the East German government would go into effect—said, “I believe right away.” I saw that at about 10:30 p.m. By then thousands of East Berliners had already made their way to the border crossing at Bornholmer Bridge and then streamed into West Berlin. The Wall had fallen.

The premiere of Heiner Carow’s film, Coming Out, also took place that night. My wife was at the premiere. I knew that. My daughter, who was 12 at the time, was home alone. I must have tried to call her a dozen times, but it always rang busy. Back then there were very few telephone lines between East and West Germany, and the cell phone hadn’t been invented yet . . . . Sometime very late that night I got through. My daughter answered right away. I said, “Hey, Mira, they opened the Wall.” And she: “Wow, Dad—to think I lived to see the day the SED opened the Wall!”

The next day, I was in a car driving to Berlin with people I hadn’t known before. I wanted to get home right away. In the opposite lane, heading West, was a line of Trabis and Wartburgs more than sixty kilometers long. Bumper to bumper.

An officer at the East German border control took stock of our car and me. We were the only ones driving East. He looked at my blue East passport and said, in broadest Saxon dialect, “This won’t do at all. When you went to West Germany, you left by train, through a different border crossing. You must re-enter Berlin and the GDR, through the same checkpoint.” To which I said, “Or I could just enter the GDR here, then go over to West Berlin, and from there drive back into East Berlin.” The East German border guard paused a moment and then said, “Well, maybe that’d work…” and let us through.

Andreas Voigt, August 2009
September 2009 Issue

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