Having returned from a much-needed break, the seasoned former journalist had endured a chaotic series of meetings and wanted to get home to his wife, Irina, for dinner But first he had to survive the daily press conference. It was November 9, 1989, and his journey into the history books of the Cold War would begin at 6:53pm  Just weeks earlier, East Germany’s veteran leader Erich Honecker had been forced from power in a bloodless coup His successor, Egon Krenz, desperately wanted to show the East German people – and the watching world – his new regime could survive  But the country was bankrupt and days away from insolvency. Honecker had taken 20 billion marks in loans But instead of investing in industrial infrastructure or job creation, he increased consumer consumption in a doomed bid to retain public favour  On November 4, half a million protesters had gathered in Berlin’s Alexanderplatz square to hear speakers from the country’s fledgling democratic movement Krenz himself addressed the crowd promising his Socialist Unity Party could change, but the writing was on the wall  Acknowledging this meant answering questions and a daily press conference, beamed live around the country, and to the world, was a cornerstone of Krenz’s planned push against growing internal unrest  Now on November 9, 30 years ago this week, the press conference had started nearly an hour earlier in the tall room of polished wooden walls and rows of red foldaway seats  Plodding to the platform flanked by three colleagues, Schabowski found himself reciting his news, with one memo linked to the urgent matter dominating East German society-freedom of travel  The reverberation and smell of thousands of East German Trabant cars trundling their way across Eastern Europe had been a dark precursor of the storm that would envelop the GDR The entire country seemed to be on the move as its citizens collectively decided enough was enough Theirs was a growing realisation that a longed-for better life was out there waiting for them  Situated some 100 miles inside the Soviet zone of occupation, West Berlin was isolated and vulnerable, surrounded by at least 300,000 Soviet troops and three thousand tanks  Picture: In early 1952, alarmed at the rapidly increasing exodus of professionals and skilled workers, Moscow flexed its muscles imposing punishment and demarcation lines  By 1961, more than 2.1 million people, a sixth of the entire population, had simply walked out of their front doors and never returned  The border had to be strengthened. On August 13, 1961, thousands of troops and armed militias supported by tanks and armoured personnel carriers began to ring-fence the West Berlin boundary  Police units worked with construction gangs to build a physical barrier, including guard towers along large concrete walls, accompanied by a wide area – later known as the “death strip”  Within days, amid inertia and bewilderment on the Allied side of the city, the residents of Berlin would find themselves entombed Across the next 28 years of the Berlin Wall’s existence, more than 10,000 East Germans attempted to dig under it, swim across it, smash through it, or scale and fly over it The numbers who died are still vague but at least 140 people were killed as a direct result of trying to escape – eight of them East German border guards  On November 8, 1989, a day before Schabowski’s fateful press conference, 20,000 East Germans had moved from camps in Czechoslovakia into Austria; more than 500 a day were fleeing into Hungary Just as it had been prior to the wall being built, the GDR was bleeding to death  Now, sweating under the numerous camera lights, Schabowski looked every inch the worn-out socialist bureaucrat  He eyed the rows of journalists asking questions and the clock on the wall, and determined to get everything wound up as quickly as possible  But in his haste, he had forgotten or failed to appreciate Krenz’s final words when pressing a typed two-page memo into his hands: “Announce this, it will be a bombshell ” He mumbled that he had one last piece of news to convey. It was indeed a bombshell  In a stumbling monotone, he announced changes in the law that would let citizens two-page and told: ‘Announce it will be bombshell’ “travel wherever they want” With little urgency, he looked at colleagues for confirmation. No one moved. “Since we find it unacceptable that this movement is taking place.across the territory of an allied state which is not an easy burden for that country [Czechoslovakia] to bear,” Schabowski now quickened his delivery, as the end of the memo was in sight: “Therefore we have decided today.to implement a regulation that allows every citizen of the German Democratic Republic to.leave the GDR through any of the border crossings.” He then took off his reading glasses to emphasise his task was done Hands shot up. Journalists asked when the new law would come into effect. Schabowski peered into the audience, scratched his chin, and wearily replaced his glasses in exasperation  “Applications for travel abroad by private individuals can now be made without the previously existing requirements The travel authorisations will be issued within a short time. Grounds for denial will only be applied in particular exceptional cases ” Asked again when it came into effect, Schabowski casually sifted his paperwork: “That comes into effect, according to my information, immediately, without delay ” He added: “Permanent exit can take place via all border crossings from the GDR to the FRG (Federal German Republic) and West Berlin, respectively ” One final question chased him from the room, and into history: “What is going to happen to the BerlinWall now?” There was no answer He had inadvertently fired the starter’s gun, making the fatal error of not stating the news was embargoed until the following day at 4am  More significantly, Schabowski had also failed to state there would still be strict criteria to pass border checkpoints  His announcement immediately raised popular expectations far more rapidly than the government had planned: the time frame for the GDR’s survival could now be measured in days and hours  As western journalists raced back to West Berlin, traversing through Checkpoint Charlie to file the explosive story, one asked a guard what he thought “I am not paid to think,” came the deadpan reply. Within a few hours, a trickle, then a flood of Berliners, from both sides, began making their way to the Wall The world’s media scrambled after them as, brick by brick, the potent ColdWar symbol was torn down  Berlin today is a vibrant and modern city that has recovered from the scars the Wall inflicted upon it My book attempts to accurately recall that pivotal period in the city’s life through the voices of the people who lived through it as we commemorate the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall  As for Günter Schabowski whose improvised, mistaken answer had sparked its dramatic fall, he became highly critical of the GDR  That didn’t stop him being charged as an accessory to the murder of people killed trying to flee He was convicted in 1997 and sentenced to three years in prison. Pardoned after a year, he eventually died aged 86 in a Berlin nursing home  Extracted from Checkpoint Charlie: The ColdWar, the BerlinWall and the Most Dangerous Place on Earth by Iain MacGregor (Constable, £20). For free UK delivery, call Express Bookshop on 01872 562310, or send a cheque/ PO payable to Express Bookshop: Checkpoint Offer, PO Box 200, Falmouth TR11 4WJ or visit expressbookshop co.uk