The Question Matters

Going to the Wall

Posted in Leadership,People Watching by treyfinley1008 on November 10, 2009

Gunter Schabowski.

That’s probably a name you’re unfamiliar with.  Until November 9, 1989, Gunter Schabowski was a little known Socialist party member in East Germany, a former newspaperman.  In 1989, he was serving as a media director of sorts, working in the politburo of the Socialist Unity Part in East Berlin.

He had attended Karl Marx University in Leipzig.  He became editor of a magazine at age 23.  Beginning in 1978, Gunter demonstrated exceptional work as a newspaper editor for the leading Socialist newspaper in East Germany.  A Socialist party member since 1952, he joined his party’s Central Committee in 1981.  He was a rising star.

Internationally televised news conferences were a rarity in the 80’s.  There was nothing to compare to the 24-hour news cycle of today.  Yet, in an internationally televised news conference, Gunter announced that travel out of East Germany would begin “immediately.”  For a full transcript of the press conference, click here.   You don’t have to understand German to see the awkward nature of this news conference.  Watch Gunter for his uncertainty–looking around for help, grimacing as he struggles to answer questions.  Listen to his self-doubt.  And then ask yourself if it wasn’t inevitable that something unintended would result from this highly publicized news conference. 


While Gunter hadn’t inadvertently thrown the Berlin Wall open (the walls of Communism in East Germany were already crumbling), the German Democratic Republic hadn’t intended for the gates to be open so quickly.  One word–immediately–made a big mess of things.

What do you think?  What other lessons can be learned from communication gone bad that changed history, at least in this case prematurely.


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