Don’t pick of a copy of Stasiland, by Anna Funder, if you have work to do. I did the first time, and I nearly missed a deadline. I did it again this morning, intending to write a review, and my productivity dropped like a rock again. Consider yourselves warned.
I suspect that I’m in a minority of AFOE’s writers and readers in that I actually saw the Berlin Wall in place pre-1989. We were on a school trip to Germany in 1987 and had actually been given permission to travel to West Berlin, so we naturally went to see the Wall. Strangely, though, it’s not the Wall that sticks in my memory from that trip – like most people my chief mental image of it is it being toppled in 1989 – but the journey between Hanover and Berlin, travelling by coach across East Germany on a long autobahn that had been effectively sealed off from the rest of the country, large embankments to either side of the road making it impossible for us to see any of the GDR – and, indeed, for anyone in the GDR to see any of us. I still have my old passport from that trip, complete with a GDR stamp within it.
Fifteen years after that, I saw some of the Wall again – in Rapid City, South Dakota, all of places, where two sections of it are on permanent display downtown. The one thing I do remember of seeing in West Berlin – the layers of graffiti covering the Western side of the Wall – aren’t really shown by the sections Rapid City acquired but then that’s merely a reminder of just how long it was.
Claudia and Scott have already noted that this day marks the breach of the Berlin Wall (and, as Claudia notes, a lot of other important events in German history). Let me chime in with my felicitations to the German people, and a couple of thoughts.
In 1989, the German Democratic Republic saw a revolution. The citizens of a state that claimed to be run for and in the name of the People took to the streets to remind their government that ‘We are the People!’ At first the state responded in the usual way (truncheons to the head, etc.) But in the end it surrendered, and down came the wall. The breaching of the wall is surely one of the great icons of revolution, worthy to stand next to the storming of the Bastille, the ‘shot heard round the world’, the arrival of Willem van Oranje and subsequent flight of James Stewart.
Reparlez-moi des roses de Gottingen
dans l’autre Allemagne
? l’heure o? colombes et vautours s’?loignent.
De quel c?t? du mur, la fronti?re vous rassure…
Tell me again about the roses in Gottingen
that come with me
into the other Germany
when the doves and vultures part ways.
From whichever side of the wall, the border comforts you…
– Patricia Kaas, D’Allemagne
Today is the 15th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and as Tobias notes, political unification has not created the single, new Germany its authors so fervently hoped for.
Fifteen years ago today, I watched the news from my dorm in Strasbourg, having, only the day before, decided to cancel my planned trip to Berlin that weekend. Otherwise, I would have had a valid train ticket to the street party of the century. By the time the wall came down, it was impossible to get train fare or a room anywhere in the city, and going was simply out of the question.