Twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, NBC’s Tom Brokaw—the only network anchor who reported live from Brandenburg Gate the night of Nov. 9, 1989—shared memories of witnessing the historic event while speaking at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum on Tuesday.
“It was one of those moments in history where the world, overnight, changed,” said Brokaw, who anchored NBC Nightly News for 22 years.
Brokaw attributed his presence that night in Berlin to a stroke of luck. He had come to Berlin to attend a press conference, where he did not expect any major announcements to be made.
“We had no idea that the wall would come down on my watch,” Brokaw said.
Brokaw had previously scheduled an interview with Günter Schabowski, a then-official of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany, for after the press conference. The interview became of global significance after Schabowski accidently announced that East Germans were free to travel through the wall to West Germany.
“He didn’t know what the hell he was talking about,” Brokaw said of Schabowski’s statement.
At Tuesday’s event, Brokaw played footage from his original broadcast from the border of East and West Germany.
“Good evening live from the Berlin Wall on the most historic night in this wall’s history,” a younger Brokaw said in the recording.
“The wall as we have known it since 1961—a sinister symbol of oppression—the wall has changed dramatically tonight,” the broadcast continued, followed by a round of applause from the audience at the Institute of Politics.
Brokaw described wondering throughout the broadcast whether or not then-President of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev would send tanks from Moscow.
When the gates finally opened in relative peace, Brokaw described the flow of citizens out of East Germany as “like watching creatures of the moon arrive on earth.”
Brokaw also shared behind-the-scenes stories, including an anecdote about his wife, who fell asleep early and missed his broadcast. To spurts of laughter, Brokaw said she only became aware of the news and her husband’s role while speaking to a passerby on a walk with her dog in Central Park the following morning.
Brokaw concluded his speech with a question-and-answer session with the audience, during which he addressed some of his responses to student journalists in attendance.
“And for the young journalists in the room, the last thought that went through my mind before I said, ‘good evening,’ was, ‘Don’t screw this up Brokaw,’” he said.
—Staff writer Forrest K. Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ForrestKLewis.
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