Following the April 1989 dismantling of an electric fence along the border between Hungary and Austria, by early November refugees were finding their way to Hungary via Czechoslovakia or via the West German embassy in Prague. The emigration was initially tolerated because of long-standing agreements with the communist Czechoslovak government, allowing free travel across their common border. However this movement of people grew so large it caused difficulties for both countries. In addition, East Germany was struggling to meet loan payments on foreign borrowings; Egon Krenz sent Alexander Schalck-Golodkowski to unsuccessfully ask West Germany for a short-term loan to make interest payments.:344
On 18 October 1989, longtime Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) leader Erich Honecker stepped down in favor of Krenz. Honecker had been seriously ill, and those looking to replace him were initially willing to wait for a "biological solution", but by October were convinced that the political and economic situation was too grave.:339 Honecker approved the choice, naming Krenz in his resignation speech, and the Volkskammer duly elected him. Although Krenz promised reforms in his first public speech, he was considered by the East German public to be following his predecessor's policies, and public protests demanding his resignation continued.:347 Despite promises of reform, public opposition to the regime continued to grow.
On 1 November, Krenz authorized the reopening of the border with Czechoslovakia, which had been sealed to prevent East Germans from fleeing to West Germany. On 4 November the Alexanderplatz demonstration took place.
On 6 November, the Interior Ministry published a draft of new travel regulations, which made cosmetic changes to Honecker-era rules, leaving the approval process opaque and maintaining uncertainty regarding access to foreign currency. The draft enraged ordinary citizens, and was denounced as "complete trash" by West Berlin Mayor Walter Momper. Hundreds of refugees crowded onto the steps of the West German embassy in Prague, enraging the Czechoslovaks, who threatened to seal off the East German-Czechoslovak border.
On 7 November, Krenz approved the resignation of Prime Minister Willi Stoph and two-thirds of the Politburo; however Krenz was unanimously re-elected as General Secretary by the Central Committee.:341