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Judit Szepessy
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Your reviewer in the year 1989 and the game 1989

Howdy everyone! I hope you are sitting comfortably in your chair with your coffee or any other drink. Relax, and let yourself be taken back into the amazing and magical year of 1989, and even more precisely in the region of Eastern Europe!

Citizens of those countries had been asleep for forty years, but that year was the year of awakening for them! A year of unexpected and exciting changes! This involved various events, personalities, politicians and civil movements. One way or another everyone was involved and could not be impartial to these changes.

The following montage is of the Revolution in Hungary in 1956. I chose this for the introductory part because we always saw 1989 as a continuation and the end of the process that started with 1956. The Hungarian radio station played this Beethoven piece while the Soviet tanks entered Hungary.



I grew up in Hungary under the Communist regime, during its lighter years; those years are referred to as "Gulyash Communism." However, we still had to face restrictions - no freedom of speech or freedom of religion; we were allowed to travel to Western Europe only once in every three years; education and culture was influenced by Communist ideology, although we knew much of what was taught had to be looked through under critical glasses.

About three years ago I made a geeklist about boardgames featuring Hungary. When I posted the list, one of my geekbuddies found the game 1989: Dawn of Freedom. It captivated my attention immediately for various reasons. A game that centres around the year and happenings when Communism collapsed in Eastern Europe? Cards with events that I witnessed in person? In 1989, I was a university history student in Hungary, studying history and literature, so it was only natural I wanted to learn and play the game, and see how much it resonates with history.


In this review, I am going to write about the historical background of the game and explain how the theme is reflected in the game mechanics.
I started to write this review when only the P&P version was available. Since then, GMT published the game, and now, it hopefully will go out to a greater audience.

The history in the year 1989 and the game 1989

What happened in 1989 in Eastern Europe? Let me quote a historian who witnessed many of the events firsthand, Timothy Garton Ash. "The year 1989 was the biggest in world history since 1945. In international politics, 1989 changed everything. It led to the end of communism in Europe, of the Soviet Union, of the Cold War. It opened the door to German unification, .... the enlargement of NATO, two decades of American supremacy, globalization and the rise of Asia."


The events in 1989 ended 40 years of Communism in that region. Why and how did these changes happen? The economy was failing, people were tired of the system and were starting to form opposition groups and make their voices heard in different ways. It became clear to both politicians and ordinary people that Communism as a political and economic system had failed. The Communist governments recognized that they had to make changes if they wanted to maintain some level of power. This unique interaction and progression of events led to the transition from Communism to Democratic systems in Eastern Europe. Each country in the region had its peak events and key figures, but changes, on the whole, happened through negotiations and demonstrations.

In the game, both the Democrat and Communist player try to gain more control than their opponent by using different actions and fighting Power Struggles – all these are driven by cards and die rolls.

How the game 1989 reflects the history of the year 1989

How the map reflects the history

The game stimulates the events that happened simultaneously in that region. The board features Germany, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and Romania. In each country there are a number of spaces of which some are special "Battleground" spaces. Spaces also represent various segments of society such as Elite, Bureaucrat, Farmer, Worker, Intellectual, Student, Minority and Church Space. Proportionally, the spaces accurately reflect the different segments of society, with the Workers in the biggest portion. Even in 1989, there was a battle going on behind the scenes between the Communists and Democrats for the support of various segments of society. It was not at all certain that the Democrats were going to win. The political situation and balance was very delicate and uncertain.



The board reflects the battle for influence very accurately. It was not enough to gain the support of just the Workers; both Communists and Democrats needed the support of the Intellectuals, Minorities, Elite, etc. During the years of Communism, various segments of Eastern European societies gained strength and also became islands of opposition. The year 1989 was exceptional, because these groups gathered their strength and acted together either through demonstrations or around the Round Table where the main negotiations were held. The map nicely mirrors all these segments and their strength in the various countries.


You, as a player, try to advance on the board with the cards, and much depends on how you chose to play your cards. The board changes all the time as various groups become stronger and others weaker. For a while, in 1989, it was uncertain whether there really would be a transition of power.

The cards reflecting history

The cards feature key events, persons, and agreements in each country. When you play a card you stimulate history with the person, event or other significant feature that is featured on a card. If you do not use the event on the card, you will use its Support Points to try to shift influences to your favour. The level of benefit on the card or the extent of the drawback on the card corresponds with the historical significance of what the card depicts. There is a lot of tension when you have to play a card that will trigger an event in the favour of the other player. Many times you cannot avoid or prolong the activation of that card any longer. Events had to happen and decisions had to be made.

Whatever card you play, you are right in the heart of 1989. You are making and recreating history. A lot of research must have gone into making the cards and this improves the game considerably. Kudos to the designer to come up with such accurate and close description of events.

Example 1: Walesa & Solidarity Legalized



These two cards show the great influence and popularity that the Polish trade union (Solidarity) and its leader had in Poland in 1989 and long before that as well. In 1989, Solidarity achieved a landslide victory in free elections. As the leader of Solidarity, Walesa was a key figure in those events and bridged the gap between workers and intellectuals. Likewise these cards in the game are powerful, and the Democratic player can gain significant power in Poland with them. These are the cards the Communist player wants to avoid playing!

Walesa can be played only if Solidarity had been played as an event before. Walesa was a heroic figure in Poland who was able to unite various segments of society and kept the hope in these people for years; the hope that there would be positive economic and political changes taking place in Poland. Solidarity were operating underground for years and when they were allowed to operate openly it signed the beginning of important changes in Poland, but also for the rest of Eastern Europe as well.

Example 2:Nagy Reburied



Imre Nagy was the PM in Hungary during the short revolution in 1956. For all those years after 1956, no one really knew where he was buried, but we knew he was buried in an unnamed grave together with other participants in the revolution. His heroic figure became a symbol to fight for changes. When he was reburied on 16th June 1989, we knew something decisive was going to happen in Hungary and in the region. On that day, not only people who had taken part in the revolution or had suffered under the Communist regime, but even young people who knew the truth about Imre Nagy and the true nature of the revolution felt that, finally, justice was done for the revolution, its legacy and its leader. On that day, most of our nation was united, and we felt, the legacy of 1956 was lingering among us. That day was an emotional and decisive one for Hungarians. Although we followed the whole ceremony on TV, it was still hard to believe this was allowed to happen. But even in the ceremony, there were still a few Communist politicians who took part in doing away with Imre Nagy in 1956....

Example 3: Fidesz

This card shows how the Young Democrats were trying to get their voices heard and push for Democratic developments. The Young Democrats were among the first civil forums that were allowed to operate legally. They were young, full of energy and meant renewal of life and revitalization to us besides the mostly old and boring apparatchiks. The card contrasts the old and boring way of Communists leaders with the youthful energy of the young democrats. The card says:"Let us chose!" - between two old kissing Communist leaders and two kissing young people.
The Young Democrats did an act of bravery that was also humorous: not long before the the changes took place: we had to celebrate the 7th November to commemorate the anniversary of the Soviet Revolution. That day was a public holiday, and as an act of disobedience, the Young Democrats went out to sweep the streets.


In the first free elections, The Alliance of Young Democrats gained quite a few seats in 1989. This was partly due to the powerful speech of their young and brave leader, Orban Viktor, delivered when Imre Nagy was reburied in June 1989. In his speech, Orban Viktor demanded that the Soviet tanks and soldiers go home. At that time it was seen a daring and brave speech. I remember visiting my father in his office and him saying, if this guy is not going to be arrested, then there are serious changes coming in the country and in the region.

Example 4: Pozsgay Defends the Revolution and Hungarian Democratic Forum

Many things evolved around discovering information about the country's recent past; information that was deeply forbidden from being publicly talked about. We all knew that the Revolution in 1956 was not a counter-revolution but an uprising against the Communist Regime, but when it was publicly announced by a leading party official Imre Pozsgay, it carried a lot of weight and we could feel the winds of change in the air. This was just one attempt at how the Communist were trying to maintain credibility and power. On the other hand, a new political party with a strong nationalistic agenda, the Hungarian Democrats, demanded that the Russian soldiers leave Hungary. This is what the card says on the hat: "Comraderies, caput!"



For us, these were all exciting and revealing moments that rewrote our past and our perception of it. These two cards show very well how both sides were trying to gain support from people addressing crucial issues of the day, such as the presence of the Russian soldiers in Hungary and the issue of the Revolution in 1956. A Hungarian writer, Sandor Marai, who emigrated to Canada in 1948, did not allow his body of work published till the Soviet Army left Hungary.

Example 5: Massacre in Temesoara: an interesting connection between the cards



With the massacre in Temesoara in 1989, the Communists tried to break the opposition. However, they were not able to do so. The Laszlo Tokes card allows the play of the Massacre in Tmisoara. These two cards are strongly connected in play, accurately mirroring the historical situation. Laszlo Tokes raised his voice against the Communist Regime and his house arrest and unshaken resistance led to the demonstrations in Temesoara (masses rallying against the Communist regime), and then to the massacre when the rioteers were suppressed by the Communists.

Example 6 : Power Struggle cards

With the Power Struggle cards the players can gain more influence in each countries. There are different kinds of Power Cards corresponding to the different forms of opposition that the Democrats were using. There are strikes, marches, proclamations, rallies, and leaders cards. For each type, we can mention a particular event to illustrate the Democrats’ struggle to make changes. Examples include the rally when about a million people came to Alexanderplatz in November, or the students' demonstrations in Prague that marked the beginning of the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia.
The Power Struggle Cards are all based on real events in 1989. These cards represent the movements and efforts of the common people or student leaders who were not able to officially partake in the changes, but felt compelled to having a voice in the changes. The various forms of demonstrations were organized in support of the transition from Communism to a Democratic state.
The person on the card is Orban Viktor.

How the Tiananmen Track reflects the history

The Tiananmen Track symbolically represents the struggle between Communists and Democrats on a broader scale. The track gives both players various advantages. At the beginning of the game, it is easier for the Democrat to progress, but later on it becomes easier for the Communist player.



How the USSR Track reflect the history

The USSR Track reflects how important it was for the positive progression of the Democratic events that the USSR seconded the changes the local Communists leaders were planning to implement to modify the system. If the USSR stability reaches 1, there is a possible coup.

How the gameplay reflects the history

It was a time of much uncertainty, and this is reflected in the game. The gameplay offers delicate choices and you constantly have to survey the board so that you can make the most out of your actions. Are you going to play your card as an event or go for Ops? But if you go for Ops and the card has your opponent’s event, that event is triggered! So will you instead try to advance on the Tienanmen track? But if you fail you can try it again only in the next turn!



You usually do not know what card your opponent has, and his cards can change the dynamics on the board.

Even the dice rolls reflect the uncertain situation at that time in those countries. No one could really foresee what the USSR was going to approve, how ordinary people would react and what result the different events would bring. In this sense the real 1989 was a year of various battles with uncertain outcomes – just as you have it in 1989 the game. Each game is different as you always have a different set of cards in your hand and you usually try to experiment with various and new strategies. Even if you use the same strategy there will not be a single game that is the same.
Another thing I find fascinating about the game is that when the Communist wins it is still true to history, as in every country that is on the map, the former Communists came back to power either right after the changes or some time later.

Conclusion

For all these reasons 1989: Dawn of Freedom is an exciting and entertaining game. There is a learning curve as you have to get to know the cards, and how to use them best at the given time and with the given board position. But this is the beauty of the game - discovering the best synergies, the timing of the cards and trying to give appropriate answers to the ever changing board. You will see a lot of plays from this game before you reach the point when it does not challenge or excite you anymore.


For those gamers who are not familiar with this part of history, this game offers an excellent opportunity to learn about an interesting period while facing challenging decisions and having a lot of fun. For those of us, who lived through these events, the game takes us back right into the heart of that unforgettable year.

Edit: I owe thanks to EndersGame and Lowengrin- two friends on the site- who proofread the early and the final draft for me.
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Oliver Paul
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Re: A historical review by a person who witnessed some of the events that 1989: Dawn of Freedom portrays Your reviewer in the year 1989 and the game 1989
Great review, very informative!
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It's just a ride...
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Re: A historical review by a person who witnessed some of the events that 1989: Dawn of Freedom portrays Your reviewer in the year 1989 and the game 1989
I remember where I was when I heard that the wall had come down. I was on a bus, just about to start a journey to Preston from Newcastle, to go and visit my mate at University there. I was looking forward to a weekend of beer and wenching.

Not quite as profound an experience as yours
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Bálint Nagy
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Re: A historical review by a person who witnessed some of the events that 1989: Dawn of Freedom portrays Your reviewer in the year 1989 and the game 1989
Köszönjük.
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Joao Pedro Cruz
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Re: A historical review by a person who witnessed some of the events that 1989: Dawn of Freedom portrays Your reviewer in the year 1989 and the game 1989
Absolutely fabulous review, many thanks.
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Warren Smith
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Re: A historical review by a person who witnessed some of the events that 1989: Dawn of Freedom portrays Your reviewer in the year 1989 and the game 1989
Just got my copy last night. Now I am even more interested to bring it to the table! Your review adds a ton of credibility to the game and puts a human 'face' to those historic times.
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Pete Belli
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Re: A historical review by a person who witnessed some of the events that 1989: Dawn of Freedom portrays Your reviewer in the year 1989 and the game 1989
Superb!

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tom moughan
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ahh....I love the smell of a stack of sketchily placed animals in the morning!
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Re: A historical review by a person who witnessed some of the events that 1989: Dawn of Freedom portrays Your reviewer in the year 1989 and the game 1989
great job on the write up! one error in your review to fix: Solidarity can be played only if Walesa had been played as an event before.

--> that should be the other way around.

Thank you for bringing some personal context to this game - I'm quite smitten with it and have been reading up on the subject! cheers!


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Ender Wiggins
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Re: A historical review by a person who witnessed some of the events that 1989: Dawn of Freedom portrays Your reviewer in the year 1989 and the game 1989
A fantastic effort Judit! I still clearly remember some of the monumental events of 1989, but witnessed them from the West, so it's very moving to hear from someone like you who experienced them first hand. It makes one realize that this is much more than a game, and that the history depicted is very real and affected many people's lives. Thank you so much for sharing!
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Judit Szepessy
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Thanks for the kind comments, everyone. One more thing I could have mentioned - as something I remember clearly - when the Austrian-Hungarian border opened up and citizens from East Germany were allowed to go to West Germany. That event lead to almost an Exodus like event. I remember people from East Germany camping around the German Embassy in Budapest, that was quite a sight, and another unexpected event.
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Giles Pritchard
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A wonderful review.
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"L'état, c'est moi."
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Roger's Reviews: check out my reviews page, right here on BGG!
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Fantastic Judit!



Bravo!!
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Bill Powers
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Outstanding Review. Thank you very much for sharing your experiences.
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C
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Well done! My attention is hard to keep, you did so nicely, thanks.
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Flying Dutchman
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This is an outstanding review Judit -- and well worthy of the praise it's receiving. It's very well written and it does a fantastic job of blending personal history with game review. Well done and thank you!
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Kurt R
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It was my life, like all lives, mysterious and irrevocable and sacred. So very close, so very present, so very belonging to me. How wild it was to let it be.
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jtemple wrote:
This is an outstanding review Judit -- and well worthy of the praise it's receiving. It's very well written and it does a fantastic job of blending personal history with game review. Well done and thank you!

This post sums up what I was about to say myself. Well done on two levels, Judit! One of the more unique and personal reviews on BGG I've ever read.
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Adam Cirone
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Thank you for writing this thoughtful review. While some of the events in 1989 are less well-known among most Americans, the reality is that for many people in the world these events were a very real part of their lives.
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Sim Guy
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Wow. One of the best reviews I've ever read.
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Anders Olin
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This was a sublime review, absolutely fantastic.
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Rob Doupe
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I was a 19-year-old backpacker hanging out in Budapest when the legislation was passed to create the new Republic of Hungary. Thing is, I didn't realize what had happened until I read about it in Time magazine a week later.

However, it did help explain a peculiar incident at a Budapest police station. My friend was inside filing a report on the theft of his camera. I waited outside wearing a t-shirt I had just bought showing the Hungarian flag with some sort of coat of arms on it. As I stood smoking in front of the police station, pedestrians and people passing in cars gestured at me rudely. One old lady got right in my grill and started haranguing me. When it became clear I was a foreigner, she chuckled and walked away.

I learned later that the coat of arms on the t-shirt was a symbol of the Stalinist era regime. By wearing it brazenly while I stood in front of the Budapest police station, on the very day of the historic parliamentary decision, I was making a defiantly reactionary political statement. Who knew?
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Jon
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Great review. Another gem for the BGG vault.

I just picked up the game yesterday at my FLGS. Then performed my usual "new game" routine of open, fondle, gawk and concluding with the grabbing of the rules. Over the course of the day I spent brief moments of time looking over the card descriptions. Card #47 "Bulgarian Turks Expelled" made me pause and I have not gotten past it yet.

In 1989 my future wife and I spent a couple of months backpacking throughout Turkey. We were just kids really. We were rather out of touch with the wider world during this time, but had come across a security guard at the Dolmabahce Palace who quizzed us on whether we liked or disliked Turkey and/or Bulgaria. We just categorized that as an odd experience and did not give it much thought afterwards.

A few weeks later were were on a train from Istanbul to Paris as we started the last leg of our trip. The train came to a late night stop at the border with Bulgaria and we were all asked to get off the train and get our passports stamped at the customs office. This meant crossing under the tracks using a small tunnel, which as it turned out was full of human excrement. The custom office was one room of a long strip mall like building. Along the length of this building the windows and walls were filled, from top to bottom, with pictures of people with names, dates and addresses.

It suddenly dawned on us that we had stumbled upon a portion of the mass ejection of the ethnic Turks from Bulgaria and these pictures were desperate attempts by split families to reunite. This was what was concerning the security guard at the museum. We could not see through the windows themselves, but I suspect there were people in there. Not sure though as the windows were either darkened or filthy or both. The tunnel was, of course, being used as the only lavatory for these poor people (being dry and somewhat sheltered).

Needless to say it was upsetting and the combination of anger, disbelief and powerlessness that passed through me that late night was something I had not experienced before or since. You desperately want to help, but you cannot which is extremely frustrating and, quite frankly, shameful.

I believe this may be the only time I have stumbled upon a historical "event". I will take a pass on seeing others. shake

EDIT: I take that back. These things should be seen. Humanity's callousness should have witnesses even if just peripheral ones such as we were.

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Kurt R
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It was my life, like all lives, mysterious and irrevocable and sacred. So very close, so very present, so very belonging to me. How wild it was to let it be.
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Love the stories this review is eliciting.
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David Oldster
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Fantastic, well-written review.
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Brian Train
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Yes, excellent review!

I like to tell the story about how I was one of the last people to be refused entry into East Berlin.

It was October 7, 1989, not quite a month before the Wall actually came down. October 7 is East Germany's "Foundation Day", the commemoration of the date of the founding of the country in 1949. National holiday, with big parades and so forth in Berlin.

My friends and I took the elevated train from West Berlin - you get on in the West and travel non-stop to Friedrichstrasse, a station about half a mile inside East Berlin, and go through the border there. We got out and the station platform was full of border guards, many more than the time I had gone over the year before - there were even police dogs. A big beefy guard and two others came up to us - he shoved out his hand and demanded:

"Passport!"
We handed them over. He looked at them.
"Amerikaner?"
"Ja, sie sind Amerikaner, ich bin Kanadisch." (I, the Canadian, was the only one who spoke German.)
He snapped them shut and poked them back at me.
"Keine Einreise!" (No entry!)
No point in arguing, so we stuck around for 15 minutes until the train went back to the West.

We found out later that no one was being allowed in from the West on that day, because Gorbachev (who was then the poster child for freedom and reform throughout the Warsaw Pact) was in town for the holiday, and big anti-government demonstrations were expected. This was reinforced by what had happened a few days before in Leipzig: the city police had refused to put down anti-government demonstrations, so factory militia had to be trucked in from outside the city to break them up. This was the first visible breakdown in the authority of the East German government.

As it turned out, the East Berliners had a nice holiday with no riots, I'm sure Gorbachev enjoyed himself, and we went to the open-air flea market.

A few days later, I left Berlin. And a few days after that, people began to travel through the Wall without hindrance. I had missed the Freight Train of History by a couple of weeks.

The End.

PS: Thanks for the Hungarian Revolution video. I designed Operation Whirlwind, on the Budapest street fighting in 1956, and included an Egmont Overture rule!
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Wendell
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thumbsup Fascinating review.
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