When I returned in 1989 to cover the historic revolution in East Germany, Berlin was still crackling. I spent days running through the streets again, chasing activists of the New Forum and other reform groups. In Leipzig, I was one of the few journalists allowed inside the Stasi headquarters on the night of December 6, where “Monday night” demonstrators had taken over the building.
Mouths agape, we toured the Stasi’s basement holding cells for people they arrested. Then the demonstrators and journalists gathered in the spymasters’ cafeteria—a scene right out of the 2006 Oscar-winning movie about the Stasi, “The Lives of Others.” Within a few minutes, an historic confrontation and capitulation occurred: Lieutenant General Wolfgang Schwanitz, deputy chief of the Stasi and commander of Stasi forces in the region, came into the cafeteria and took questions. He sat at a table right across from me. A graying man in civilian clothes, Schwanitz agreed to take part in further discussions with the very insistent demonstrators. Whether he knew it or not, Schwanitz was signing the surrender of the old Communist state. The death knell rang that night in the Stasi cafeteria in Leipzig.