- Title: Germany, Hungary to mark end of the Iron Curtain
- Date: 18th August 2019
- Summary: PHOTOS ON TOWN WALL
- Embargoed: 1st September 2019 08:08
- Keywords: Iron Curtain Hungary communism Germany Prime Minister Viktor Orban immigration
- Location: SOPRON AND SOPRONKOHIDA, HUNGARY
- City: SOPRON AND SOPRONKOHIDA, HUNGARY
- Country: Hungary
- Topics: Government/Politics
- Reuters ID: LVA004ASQUMNT
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: Thirty years ago on Monday Hungarian border guards for the first time allowed people from communist East Germany to cross freely into Austria and hundreds of them rejoiced. The Iron Curtain was passing into history.
This was a milestone in a year of momentous change in Europe, leading in a few short months to the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989.
But Hungary, the first country to dismantle the east-west frontier, was also the first to fortify its southern border against a big new influx of Asian and African immigrants.
In 2015, Hungary built a high-tech double razor wire fence, complete with heat sensors, night vision cameras and constant border patrols along its 300-kilometre (186-mile) border with Serbia and Croatia.
This was the physical manifestation of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's vision of a "fortress Europe".
The immigration issue threw a wrench into the usually close ties between Hungary and Germany, since Orban clashed with the views of Chancellor Angela Merkel, who initially threw the gates open to migrants.
Orban and Merkel will mark the fall of the Iron Curtain together in Sopron on Monday.
In Europe, opinions are divided on these new barriers. For some of those whose lives were changed forever by their chance to flee to the West, they are a calamity. They remember fondly the so-called Pan-European Picnic, where hundreds of East Germans broke through to Austria as border guards stood aside.
"That was our second birthday," said Hermann Pfitzenreiter, who took his wife and small children across the border that day and came back to the border town Sopron to mark the anniversary and meet old Hungarian friends.
"Erecting these walls and fences, it's catastrophic," added his wife Margarete. "As Germans we belonged in Germany, but we had experienced the same unliveable life (as today's immigrants). I'd love to drop Viktor Orban on the other side so he feels what that is like."
"High as these walls may be, they will never deter people," Hermann Pfitzenreiter said. "What you see in the pictures (of us crossing) can't be put into words. We could not believe it was happening, it was total ecstasy, it had been unthinkable."
The Pfitzenreiters, interviewed by Reuters in Sopron, now live in Germany, near Mannheim.
(Production: Ros Church)
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