West Berlin citizens standing on the Berlin Wall in front of the Brandeburg Gate, 1989. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters)
On June 29, after almost five months of discussion and preparation, the East German Communist régime denounced an agreement for public debates to be held in both German states between its spokesmen and the leaders of West Germany's opposition Social Democratic Party. The plan for a high-level confrontation, the first of its kind since Germany was partitioned at the end of the Second World War, was the result of an East German initiative. It had aroused intense interest and some exaggerated hopes among Germans on both sides of the Iron Curtain.
The East German Socialist Unity, or Communist, Party (S.E.D.) had sought a "dialogue" with the West German Social Democrats (S.P.D.) with the avowed aim of causing dissension among the major parties in Bonn and splitting the S.P.D. leadership from the party rank and file. As it turned out, however, Mayor Willy Brandt of West Berlin, the S.P.D. chairman, won the support of his own party as well as Chancellor Ludwig Erhard's grudging endorsement of the proposed talks. Sixteen days before the first debate was to be held at Karl-Marx-Stadt (formerly Chemnitz) in East Germany, the Communists canceled the arrangements on the
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