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In late 1989, Germany, which was then still split in two — the democratic West and communist East. The East Germany communist regime, had a very rough time. It was rocked by major protests and civil disobedience by the very unhappy population.
A constant fixture of the protesting east Germans was their desire for the freedom to travel to West Germany, without major restrictions.
Eventually, the Communist Party leadership, hoping to keep control of their increasingly rebellious citizens, decided to cave in to these demands. They wrote a set of rules and regulations designed to ease the process of travelling between the two Germanys.
The Communist Party reached an agreement on the form of the regulations early on the 9th of November. They planned for the rules to come into effect the following day, on the 10th to give the border guards enough time for an orderly application of the new requirements.
Later during the day of 9th of November, the Berlin Communist Party leader was due to hold a press conference to announce the change. Shortly before the news conference, he was given a note that detailed how the new regulations would work. However, what the note lacked was the precise date and time when the rules would come into effect.
After he explained the changes at the press conference, journalists asked when they would come into effect.
Caught unprepared, and with no obvious future date, he responded without thinking it through. He said, “As far as I know, it takes effect immediately, without delay.”
Immediately after that, throngs of people stormed the Berlin Wall border crossings, demanding to cross into West Berlin.
Vastly outnumbered, confused and with no clear orders, the East German border guards eventually gave in. In a short period of time, order broke down completely. Soon there was no way to restrict movement that could possibly be enforced. Within the next few hours and days, the process of destroying the Berlin Wall was in full swing.
Back in the 18th century, potatoes were banned for human consumption in France for a variety of reasons, such as the misguided belief that they caused leprosy. Their most common usage was for animal feed. Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, decided to change that and purposely created a misunderstanding that was an outstanding success.
The French monarchy gave Parmentier a plot of land very close to Paris. Parmentier varied the Biblical concept of the “forbidden fruit” to create the forbidden vegetable. Parmentier kept the contents of his piece of land strictly secret and assigned guards to protect the crop — potatoes. Curious people bribed the guards and absconded with what they thought had to be valuable since it was both a secret and guarded.
Of course, Parmentier, had instructed the guards to take the bribes and turn a blind eye to the stealing that took place.
Even great writers make mistakes and create misunderstandings. In The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler has the chauffeur murdered and found dead in a car. The murder is ignored for the rest of the book and never solved. In Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe tells us that the hero strips and swims out to his wrecked ship to rescue supplies which he brings back to shore by shoving them into his pockets. Bram Stoker’s Dracula breaks into a house several times where all his enemies are asleep to turn a woman there into an undead vampire. However, it never occurs to him to just kill his enemies so nobody will know what he is.