East German workers early today punched through the Berlin Wall, lifting a section of concrete panel to create a 6-foot gap, making the first hole in the fortification that has divided East and West for nearly 30 years.
East German guards immediately placed a flimsy red and white metal barrier in front of the opening at the Bernauer Strasse, effectively erecting a new temporary barrier.
On Friday, East Germany ended all border restrictions, and more than 100,000 jubilant East Germans climbed over and rushed through borders for the first time since 1961. They chatted amiably with stony-faced guards who no longer have orders to open fire. Thousands crossed back and forth during the day.
Communist leader Egon Krenz told 150,000 people at a rally in East Berlin that his new reforms “will not be turned back.” The party’s Central Committee approved a document calling for free elections, more restrictions on its security forces and greater separation of party and state.
Chancellor Helmut Kohl of West Germany flew to West Berlin hoping to speak with Krenz, who has stunned the world with rapid reforms – and a pledge of free elections – intended to appease pro-democracy protesters and end emigration to the West.
Work began late Friday at the Bernauer Strasse.
Associated Press reporter George Jahn watched from the Western side as East Germans used a hydraulic crane to dismantle the round top of the concrete wall. East German workers could be heard knocking on the wall.
Peter Ziesler, a West German police official at the scene, said; “It will be a pretty hole that will make it possible for people and cars to come through.”
The new crossing was scheduled to be opened at 8 a.m. today.
On the Western side, dozens of firemen dismantled observation platforms from which West Berliners used to gaze across the wall. About 400 people watched, occasionally setting off fireworks.
“We are speechless,” said Helmut Keuchel, 48. “This is a fabulous and overwhelming experience.”
Several thousand people celebrated at the Brandenburg Gate, the great monument that, like the wall, was a symbol of Berlin’s division. Many danced on the wall, drank champagne, waved sparklers, set off fireworks and chanted: “The wall must go! The wall must go!”
East German border guards watched impassively as some in the crowd used picks and hammers to chip away pieces of the hated barrier for souvenirs.
Thousands of East Berliners poured across the Glienicker Bridge, on which some of the most famous spy trades took place, when it was opened in the early evening.
In West Berlin, thousands more streamed along the elegant Kurfeurstendamm shopping boulevard, some carrying candles, others toasting each other. Crowds of young girls could be seen rushing down the street toward stores. Bars offered free drinks to East Berliners.
Police in West Berlin said they gave up counting Friday when they reached 50,000 visitors.
Krenz told a rally of 150,000 people in East Berlin “the best of our people must be elected to Parliament.” He said reforms would make “a new revolution on German soil” that would produce a communist system “economically effective, politically democratic, and morally pure.”
“These are not empty promises,” he declared, addressing the skepticism of those who have questioned his sincerity.
Communist officials said Thursday that, for the first time since the Berlin Wall was built, citizens could travel freely to the West until a new travel law was drafted. On Friday, they made the open border permanent.
“It is permanent and will be the foundation of a new travel law,” Interior Minister Friedrich Dickel said on state television.
President Bush said he would “seize every chance” to promote democracy in Eastern Europe and his meeting next month in Malta with President Mikhail S. Gorbachev of the Soviet Union will have “even more importance.”
Secretary of State James A. Baker III called the lifting of East German travel restrictions “the most dramatic event in East-West relations” since World War II, but added: “There’s a long way to go before there is true freedom and true political pluralism in East.