On Oct. 7, 1989, East Germany's Communist Party General Secretary Erich Honecker celebrated the 40th anniversary of the creation of the Red German Democratic People's Republic, the DDR, with a massive military parade in downtown East Berlin.
The parade included not only infantry and sailors, but also a wide array of mechanized vehicles, among them towed artillery, armored cars, light tanks, self-propelled guns, rocket launchers, and Surface-to-Air missiles (SAMS.)
Present as the General Secretary's special honored guest was Soviet Community Party General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev (who delivered several snappy military salutes as the troops goose-stepped by), and his wife Raisa; the late PLO leader Yasser Arafat, Nicaraguan Red leader Daniel Ortega, and all the top military leaders and attaches of the era's Warsaw Pact countries.
Behind the reviewing stand was a giant red banner with the regime's emblem blazing under the bold logo "DDR 40 Years." Recorded and broadcast by the regime's own television station, the parade began with its Armed Forces' commanders riding in convertibles past the assembled forces. Then the traditional "jingling johnny bell trees"musical instruments--- favored by most European armies for over a century or more--- led the band at the head of the troops to its place opposite the reviewing stand and its dignitaries.
This was the last great, fleeting glimpse of the postwar Communist Bloc at the apex of its glory, about to fade from the scene faster than any of the parade participants and onlookers could possibly have imagined!
Called "a masterpiece of disinformation," the unique 47-minute-long sharp color film of remarkable clarity is as powerful today as when it was first recorded 20 years ago. Another banner proclaimed "The DDR lives for the Fatherland!" and the East German onlookers in the stands waved small white pennants emblazoned with "DDR 40" on them, as their soldiers tramped by in white gloves, dress uniforms with aiguillettes, and carrying Soviet-made AK-47 automatic rifles at port arms.
Riders in the armored cars wore red berets, while the tankers sported the traditional black leather helmets worn by their Soviet Army comrades since the start of World War II.
Ironically, just as the Allied victory parade in Berlin of June 1945 marked paid to the dead Third Reich of Adolf Hitler, so, too, did this one become the death knell for the DDR, as riots broke out in Berlin and across East Germany within hours of its conclusion, making this final march past unique in the history of parades martial. Within 12 days, Secretary General Honecker was overthrown, and the DDR passed into history. Shortly thereafter, East and West Germany reunited, a reunion now itself in its second decade.
Honecker's Last Hurrah: East Germany's Military On Parade