Monday, 9 November 2009

Vorwärts in Einheit

So twenty years ago today, the amazing events surrounding the fall of the Berlin Wall came to pass. One of those occasions when |I have literally felt as though I was living through history.

I have treasured connections with Germany spanning four decades but for half of that time, the division of the country seemed as permanent as it was intractable. Then the era of Gorbachev, Perestroika and its now-forgotten precursor Glasnost cam along and All Things Were Possible.

The trickle of “refugees”, first via Hungary and Austria, became a torrent with West German politicians revising their “all Easterners are welcome here” in favour of “all are welcome but not all at once”!

I had gone on an organised group trip to look at the tram systems in Braunschweig and Hanover and we were staying in an hotel in Hildesheim. As the evening wore on, reports on the television in the bar gradually became a continuous news programme. Only a couple of us spoke reasonable German and as the scenes unfolded people kept asking us to explain what was going on. We could scarcely believe what we were hearing about “travel restrictions being eased”; it sounded as though the DDR government had “opened up” (as indeed they had) but so momentous was this that we weren’t sure we were understanding correctly.

The next day on the Autobahn we kept seeing little Trabants abandoned at the side of the road, where theu had run out of the two-stroke petrol we were told they needed.

Things were still in a state of flux when we left Germany a few days later. For a while , it looked as though the DDR might evolve into a democratic state but still a separate one. However, the tide of opinion and indeed of history was against this. Sentiment of Unity was unstoppable and the rest – of course – is history.

I would have loved, dearly loved, to have been in Berlin that night. But being in Germany at all was enough.

The Europe of today is not by any means perfect. But it – like Germany - is far the better for its unity.

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