He announced that citizens of the East German communist republic could visit the west unverzuglich. Until then East German citizens, like millions of others in Soviet countries, were hostages behind the Berlin Wall, that icon of the Iron Curtain dividing the world for decades.
The government had intended a program of liberalization and slow controlled visits. An East German radio correspondent asked "what exactly does unverzuglich mean in this context?" The official mistakenly said "it means straightaway".
Citizens everywhere, and border guards, heard those words and within 15 minutes thousands of East Berliners were crossing unencumbered into the west. A half-century of isolation ended in a word. Fifteen minutes earlier they would have been shot!
Within a year the Iron Curtain was gone! Soon, so was the Soviet Union. No one anywhere predicted that. Not political scientists and certainly not intelligence services on either side. The world changed in an instant and no one knew where it would go.
Now we have globalization, escalating policing costs, Ferguson, police militarization, the decline of crime, and climate change. Berlin Walls are everywhere.
Today I finished reading a remarkable book that portrays a future worth building. It is Jeremy Rifkin's The Zero Marginal Cost Society.
Next blog: Part 2 - The Zero Marginal message.