Peter Christian Bürger

* 1956  

  • Yes of course, after all I was standing next to him on the balcony that evening.” I have one thing to say about that. Millions of people even today look at the famous half sentence, the rest of which was drowned out by the cheers of five thousand people, refugees, down there in the garden. But in reality Hans Dietrich Genscher talked over half an hour and even then there were key sentences which allowed the people down there in the garden to understand things had really changed. For example he greeted people by saying: “In the name of the Federal Republic of Germany I greet you as a German among Germans.” That sentence was absolutely crucial. You belong with us, we belong together. A lot was said that evening and among other things about a third way through the speech there was that sentence. “We’ve come here today to let you know: today your emigration has been permitted.” And that “permitted” was drowned out in thousands of cheering voices that must’ve been heard throughout Prague.

  • I was about twenty, thirty metres away from the main entrance when one of the police officers put out their cigarette. And even today I have the feeling he took one or two steps in my direction. For me that was the signal to start out. I had to make sure he didn’t stop me or ask for my papers, at any cost. That’s why it was exactly the signal I needed to break out into a run. That large entryway to the embassy could have also been closed, which would be of no use to me! I started out anyway, made it to the entrance, the gate was really open which allowed me to run through the portal they have there. I didn’t turn around to check if the police officer was heading my way or standing still, because I wasn’t even a hundred percent sure whether or not he was allowed in to pull me back. I knocked on the kiosk at the gatehouse and called inside: “My name is Mr Bürger, I’m from the GDR and I’m not leaving this place.”

  • Of course that was very difficult. Anyone who wanted to leave the GDR illegally was risking their life, you had to take that into account. As we know today, thanks to the tens of kilometres of documents still currently stored in Berlin, the GDR was one large prison. There was hardly any hope of leaving the country by any means. There were a lot of escape attempts and many people died in those attempts to cross the Germany-Germany border.

  • The problem was that as soon as I submitted my first request, they immediately knew: “Yes, this is one of those people who want to leave our Socialist state, who want to betray us, who are attracted to the capitalist system in the Federal Republic!” From that moment on I was officially branded an enemy of the state, something they let me know very keenly.

  • I was forced to the conclusion that power in the GDR fell adversely on every critical soul and was not afraid to use any means at its disposal. So I saw no option for individual growth in my future life in the GDR and primarily no perspective that things would improve in the future. For this reason, some time in 1984, I decided to try and find a way to leave the GDR legally, by submitting a request for permanent emigration. To end what had been my life there and seek happiness somewhere else, where I could further develop as a person. And I wanted to do that in the Federal Republic. So I submitted my first request. That however was rejected without any reason being given.

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    Praha, 06.08.2019

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    duration: 02:23:38
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The GDR was one large prison, the iron courtain fell in Prague

Christian Bürger, beginning of the 1980´s
Christian Bürger, beginning of the 1980´s
photo: pamětník

Christian Bürger was born in 1956 in Chemnitz (Karl-Marx-Stadt at the time) in the German Democratic Republic. His mother was a post-war Silesian deportee who settled in what was at the time the Soviet Occupation Zone of Germany. Christian didn’t join any youth organisations or the Communist party and so was not permitted to study. He was active in Christian opposition circles. In 1984 he submitted an official request to immigrate to the FRG, this was however rejected with no explanation. The act of submitting the request however made him an “enemy of the state” in the GDR and he had to regularly report in with the authorities for interrogation. He and two close friends wanted to leave the country illegally, through Czechoslovakia. But in February 1986 he was arrested and spent half a year in prison in solitary confinement. He was turned in by one of the friends he was planning his escape with. He was sentenced to three years and imprisoned in Cottbus. A year and a half later he was released thanks to the amnesty which the FRG had insisted on in return for a loan. For the next three years he remained under court supervision and was not allowed an identity card. He was once more required to come in for interrogations, remained under Stasi oversight and carry out menial jobs. In the spring of 1989, he was inspired by a critical mention in television about the first East-German refugees at the Western embassy in Prague. One June night he crossed over the border into the CSSR illegally, as he had no documents. He was only able to find the embassy building in Prague thanks to West-German tourists, as it was not on any of the maps. He was among the first forty refugees to arrive at the embassy and took part in the organisation and construction of the tent camp, becoming something of a spokesperson for the refugees. On 30 September he was present during the visit of the FRG foreign minister Genscher in Prague and stood behind him on the balcony as he announced the refugees would be allowed to leave. Thanks to international pressure, the GDR allowed their emigration, not directly from the CSSR, insisting they travel over its own territory. Refugees were ferried from the embassy to the Prague Libeň train station by specially sent East-German buses, East-German trains rode them through empty stations to Hof in the FRG, where they were welcomed by cheering crowds. In a few days, Bürger managed to get a job in the restaurant business, soon rose to a managerial position, completed his education, travelled and worked abroad – his escape and the following fall of the iron curtain gave him new opportunities.