The 25th anniversary of the border opening between Hungary and Austria was on 11 September, an event that enabled thousands of refugees from East Germany to leave the country. The German Embassy and the German-Hungarian Chamber of Industry and Commerce (DUIHK) have mounted a poster campaign that can be seen until the end of the month in Budapest, Pécs, Sopron, Miskolc, Szombathely, Veszprém, Hatvan and Kecskemét. The posters have a simple message: “Thank you, Hungary.”
The large image displayed on posters on the Buda side of Margaret Bridge, at metro stations and the exterior of the German Embassy in the Castle District travelled around the world in autumn 1989: the photograph by Tamás Lobenwein shows a car driving over the Hungarian-Austrian border beside an opened gate – a picture that became a symbol for the fall of the Iron Curtain.
The German Embassy and DUIHK campaign recognises Hungary’s important role and keeps alive the memory of the night. Hungary had already begun to dismantle its border fortifications with Austria at the end of April 1989. Then at the Pan-European Picnic on 19 August one border gate was open for several hours near Sopron.
Thousands of German Democratic Republic citizens came to Hungary hoping that they would be able to cross to Western Germany from here. They went to the German Embassy in Budapest and to the Zugliget refugee camp operated by the Maltese Charity Services. On 10 September 1989 then-minister of foreign affairs Gyula Horn announced on television that the GDR citizens would be allowed to leave the country. On the next day they could cross into Austria and on to West Germany.
German Ambassador to Hungary Lieselore Cyrus presented the poster campaign and emphasised how much Germany appreciates the role Hungary played. “The Hungarians proved that they have a big heart and a lot of courage,” she said. “They are known for it and this is exactly how they behaved.”
Cyrus said the fact that the GDR citizens could leave the country – apart from the acceptance and care they had received in Hungary and the temporary opening of the border at the Pan-European Picnic – was a milestone on the road leading to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of Europe’s dividedness.
The “Thank you, Hungary” poster campaign was made possible thanks to financial support from the German-Hungarian Chamber of Industry and Commerce, which represents about 900 companies as the largest bilateral economic organisation in Hungary. Beside the big names including Bosch, Siemens and Magyar Telekom, some middle-size companies also gave support.
More than 100 posters were put up nationwide. The cost was covered almost equally by the German Foreign Office and the DUIHK. Some of the companies put posters on their own buildings. Communities of some Hungarian towns also gave space.
Klaus Riedel, at the German Embassy, said it had been decided the posters would be in German to call attention to their German origin and to better differentiate them from the mass of other posters written in Hungarian. “Our posters were accepted very well,” he said. “We are getting really positive feedback.”
Chamber president Dale A. Martin said: “11 September 1989 was most of all a victory of Hungary’s and East Germany’s love of freedom. All the Germans owe thanks and respect to all the ones who have played a role in the events of that time.” Martin highlighted the role that the political change in the former Eastern bloc had played in its countries’ economic development. The events of 25 years ago had been an important trigger for their EU membership and for the reforms introduced in the market economy, through which they had benefitted.
Martin said there are many German companies in the country today that are “producing and offering services for the mutual benefit of the parties”. Therefore it had not been a must but rather an inner need for DUIHK members to thank the Hungarians in such a way.
Cyrus stressed how important the pictures taken on the night of the border opening remain. It was “particularly important, especially now, when there are several violent conflicts worldwide and unfortunately in Europe too, that we preserve the memory of this peaceful historical event for the younger generations”.