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The event was planned to be a peaceful demonstration. Both countries agreed to open a gate in the border fence, between Sankt Margarethen im Burgenland (near Eisenstadt), and Sopronkőhida (Steinambrückl) on the Hungarian side of the border.
The leaders of the time were Otto von Habsburg and the Hungarian minister, Imre Pozsgay. The person who did the actual cutting of the border fence was the general secretary of the International Paneuropean Union, Walburga Habsburg Douglas. The gate was to be symbolically opened for three hours.
More than 600 citizens of the German Democratic Republic took the chance to cross into the west once the Iron Curtain was opened. They had been told about the event by its organizers. At that time, the Hungarian border police still had orders to shoot anyone trying to cross the border illegally. However, they acted carefully and did not shoot at the fleeing people, this time.
The number of people who actually crossed the border to enter the west was only a few hundred on that first day. On the following days, the border was watched more closely, due to orders by the Hungarian government. Therefore, a smaller number of people managed to flee then. Hungary opened its borders to citizens of East Germany on September 11, 1989.
Remembering the event
Today, the Paneuropean Picnic is seen as one of the important events that led to the end of the German Democratic Republic and the Cold War, the fall of the Iron Curtain, and the unification of the two German states.
The event is celebrated every year on August 19 on the spot where the border was opened.
Today, artwork made by Hungarian artists is at the place where the fence was cut. It shows a partly opened door.
- Central Europe Review - Hungary remembers the picnic that tore down the Iron Curtain.
- (German) Paneuropean Picnic, the end of the division of Europe - Shows the event on the website of the Paneuropean Union. Also has images of the invitation fliers.
- (German) An account of the situation, as seen from the border-town St. Margarethen