It’s the twentieth anniversary today of the fall of the Berlin Wall. I doubt there’ll be television specials except perhaps on the ABC or SBS, but I note there is a Beck’s Beer advertising campaign appearing on bus shelters around Sydney.
I’m not sure why, but I’ve always felt a bit of an affinity with Germany. I guess it has something to do with those childhood memories and learning German in high school. As I recalled about twelve months ago on this blog…
Twenty-six years ago, aged seventeen, I travelled to Germany (well, West Germany as it was then), with a group of school-mates and our teacher. I was in Year 12 and I’d been learning German for a number of years. Sometime a couple of years early, one of us had the idea of fund-raising for a trip to Germany, and so that’s just what we did. As well as the fund-raising, I also had a part-time job, and after two or three years, we had enough money to actually do it in May 1983. The memories of that trip remain incredibly vivid for most of my adult life. But particularly today, as I’ve walked around Berlin, many of those memories have come flooding back.
I remember the incredibly long overnight train trip from Frankfurt, being woken in the middle of the night for passport check (I couldn’t find mine for a moment), and then arriving in Berlin itself. I remember our day trip to East Berlin, and in particular, I remember going through one of the border points in Berlin (I remember it WASN’T Checkpoint Charlie), and going on a brief tour of East Berlin with an emphasis on galleries, museums and things like that. The East German tour guide was very proper, as I recall.
Later during our time in Berlin, I have an incredibly vivid memory of standing in the Tiergarten near Brandenberg Gate, where there were two guards goose-stepping their way around. Along with my two school-mates, Louise and Amanda, we waved at them, hoping for some response. Nothing. Nothing. And then finally, a very brief raised hand in response.
Travelling back to West Germany in the daylight hours, I also have a very vivid memory of seeing a school outside the train window, which declared with a huge sign that “The sun always shines in East Germany”.
Last year, I returned to Berlin and made the following observations…
A lot has changed in twenty five years, obviously. For a start, I’m staying in what was East Berlin. And so far, I’ve yet to wander over the border into what was West Berlin. From my perspective, it’s like visiting a whole new city, because in some ways it is. However, there are a few buildings I’ve recognised from that brief day-trip to East Germany. There’s been a wonderful sense of dejavu.
For a while the memories were a little overwhelming and I found myself a little overcome. “This is a total mindfuck”, I thought to myself at one point, reflecting on how different was the experience now. Not only because Berlin has changed dramatically, but also because I’m now seeing it through the eyes of a forty-two year old.
Interestingly enough, November 9 is an important day in German history. There’s a terrific article which discusses the significance of November 9 in German history, which I’d recommend.