On Saturday, two dozen historic cars of East German production were on display at Malostranské náměstí in Prague. Their drivers recalled the exodus of citizens of the former German Democratic Republic, who 30 years ago decided to leave the country through the West German embassy in Prague and left cars in the streets of Malá Strana.
As expected, Trabants and Wartburgs from the Eisenach car factory dominated the cars. However, the Soviet Lada cars and the Škoda 100 car were also on display. Some of the cars also had typical period equipment behind the rear windows, ie a car map and knitted toilet paper caps.
Two Volvo limousines and one Tatra 613, which were used by representatives of the communist regime, also took part in the show.
The German ambassador Christoph Israng also came to inspect the cars. “The refugees wrote history then, they came again today and they share their story with us,” he then paid tribute to the witnesses. Other speakers also described the events as milestones on the road to German reunification.
Witnesses from the ranks of refugees and embassy staff remembered in particular how the embassy headquarters was filled with refugees to the last place, including stairs, land and a boiler room, as well as the embassy garden, where a tent town was established. Although the embassy had difficulty managing the influx, the government of the then GDR refused to let its citizens into West Germany.
East German refugees appeared at the embassy in the spring of 1989, and in August they began to increase significantly. The departure of the first wave of emigrants includes an agreement announced at the Lobkovický Palace by the then West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher on 30 September. Shortly afterwards, however, a second wave of East Germans flooded the embassy. By the fall of the Berlin Wall in November, 15,000 people had emigrated through the West German embassy in Prague.
Days and weeks of waiting for travel permission
A commemorative plaque at the Prague Liben railway station has also commemorated the journey of former East German citizens for freedom since Saturday, from where 13,000 people arrived in what was then West Germany 30 years ago. Before that, they had to spend weeks on the premises of the West German embassy before the communist government of the former GDR allowed them to travel.
The plaque was unveiled by former Federal Minister Rudolf Seiters, who was one of the refugee fate negotiators, and one of them, the current director of the Dresden Symphony Orchestra, Markus Rindt. He recalled the tensions and insecurity that existed among the refugees. He also said that the regime at the time did not allow people to travel and study freely.
“It wasn’t until I boarded the train (Libni, Prague) that I realized it would be possible,” said Rindt. According to Rindt, not only peaceful demonstrations were important for the fall of the regime in what was then East Germany, but also tens of thousands of refugees who went to the West via Hungary and Czechoslovakia. He would like people fleeing lack of freedom, violence and war to be welcomed, especially in the GDR, just as East German refugees were welcomed in West Germany 30 years ago.
A revolutionary path to reunification
German diplomats also recalled the events of that time as moments that went down in history and as milestones on the road to a peaceful revolution and German reunification. “Freedom trains were an important step towards the reunification of Germany and Europe,” the descent in Czech and German is also mentioned. Bernd Posselt, a spokesman for the Sudeten German Compatriots’ Association, also took part in its unveiling.
The exhibition was also commemorated at the station by the exhibition Refugees from the GDR on their way from Prague to Hof. The atmosphere was then introduced to the German train with period wagons, which arrived in Prague from Dresden, similarly to 30 years ago.
In the afternoon, the Road to Freedom festival is produced at the German Embassy in Prague. It will include four panel debates with witnesses to the events of 1989, whether politicians or refugees.