Guild of Television Camera operator (GTC) Conall Freeley’s work for ITN led to him capturing one of the most iconic moments in news history, the fall of the Berlin wall. Go behind the broadcast with Conall and learn what challenges the ITN news crew had to face and how these remarkable scenes reshaped the modern world.
November 1989, the world witnesses an extraordinary event – the fall of the Berlin Wall. The iconic moment marked the beginning of the end of communism in Eastern Europe. British news network, ITN, had a front-row seat to history as cameraman Conall Freeley and sound recordist Paul Douglas were dispatched to Berlin to capture the unfolding events. Conall recounts the chaotic and historic journey that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the emotions he captured during this monumental event.
The Scramble to Berlin
It was late evening when Conall and Paul received a call from ITN, summoning them to Berlin. Something extraordinary was happening. They rushed to gather their equipment and boarded a hastily chartered jet at London’s Gatwick Airport, full of journalists and news crews bound for Berlin. The news of a breach of the Berlin Wall created a buzz of uncertainty and excitement among the news crews, eager to capture the momentous event. “It was a mad scramble,” says Conall. “Nobody really knew for sure what was happening, which made it more exciting.”
The Unplanned Journey
Conall and Paul reached Berlin with a sense of urgency and anticipation. The 27-mile-long Berlin Wall had divided the city for nearly three decades and now mounting social pressure and political reform was reaching a boiling point. While nobody fully understood the magnitude of the situation. The scene at the Brandenburg Gate on the West Berlin side hinted at something extraordinary. Eastern border guards, typically menacing, now seemed confused and inactive. As the crowds gathered, the atmosphere intensified, and the news crew braced for the unknown. “We probably didn’t grasp the full significance at that moment,” says Conall. “We were just focused on capturing the unfolding events. It was a whirlwind, and we were racing around trying to keep up.”
With no strategic plan in place, Conall and Paul relied on their instincts, reacting to rumours that the wall could fall. They ventured through Checkpoint Charlie, a significant crossing point between East and West Berlin, to reach the East side. There, they witnessed East Germans chipping away at the wall with pickaxes, hammers, and chisels. As the wall crumbled, a massive crowd gathered on both sides. “It was all so spontaneous; nobody could have expected the wall’s sudden fall,” Conall says. “We were engrossed in the moment, trying to capture every bit of history as it happened.”
The Carnival Atmosphere
As thousands of people gathered at the wall and tensions rose, Conall recalls the moment it crumbled: “We started hearing rumours they were going to knock holes in the wall. Suddenly, too many blocks were pushed over from the East into the West, and the crowd just went mad and surged forward. I remember Paul and I were carried along by the euphoric crowd, our feet not touching the ground as they pushed through in an enormous wave.”
He adds, “It was quite impressive to be carried by the crowd. I’m six foot two. Not a small guy, and Paul was even bigger, broader, and heavier than me. They swept us off our feet, but we continued filming. As a crew, we were almost invisible, as people were so focused on getting through the wall.”
As the crowd poured through the gaps, Conall and Paul witnessed emotional scenes of reunions and jubilation. Families and friends who had been separated for years by the wall were now embracing in tearful embraces. The previously menacing wall had transformed into a site of celebration and unity. “It was a big party – a carnival atmosphere, ” says Conall. “We were capturing the happiness and joy of the people as they finally had the chance to connect with loved ones on the other side.”
The Logistics of Reporting History
Covering such a historic event came with its challenges, including the need to switch between news networks and adapt to changing circumstances. With their Sony 300 Betacam camera, 16:1 telephoto zoom, and wide-angle J11 Canon lens, Conall and Paul transitioned from working with Trevor McDonald on ITN’s News at Ten to Jon Snow on Channel Four News. Each network had different reporting styles and demands, but the duo stayed focused on delivering captivating footage.
”We had to be flexible and adaptable, switching between networks and adapting our approach based on the unfolding events. It was a dynamic experience, and we just went with the flow.
The Impact of the Fall
The fall of the Berlin Wall was a monumental turning point in history, signaling the beginning of the end of communism in Eastern Europe. For Conall, it was a moment he would never forget – a memory etched in his mind forever. “The fall of the Berlin Wall was a defining moment in my career and life,” he says. “Being there to capture history was a privilege, and I’m grateful to have been part of such a significant event.”
After the wall came down, tensions were still high. Conall recalls an incident on the street that caused some panic. “One morning, I remember we were in East Berlin. It was very early in the morning and there was nobody around. We were on the wrong street, a typical, gloomy East Berlin Street. We heard a low rumble of vehicles but couldn’t see them. It didn’t sound loud enough to be tanks or armoured vehicles, but it was multiple vehicles, not just one.
It was still early days, and nobody knew what was really going on. There was always a possibility that the Russians and the East Germans would clamp down and bring the army out on the street. So, we were standing there, hearing the rumble getting louder and louder, and all looking nervously at each other. Then, around the corner, came a convoy of six West German Street cleaning vehicles.”
The History Makers
Conall’s coverage of the fall of the Berlin Wall for ITN remains a vivid memory of a historic moment that changed the world. The whirlwind of events, the carnival atmosphere, and the emotional reunions highlight the power of journalism and the impact of capturing history in the making.
Special thanks to Conall Freeley, The Guild of Television Camera Operators and Paul Cook Films.
In memory of sound operator Paul Douglas.