November 9th saw the 25th anniversary of the day that the Berlin Wall came down. As with many notorious occasions, to this day, many people can still remember what they were doing when they heard the news. Can you? (Why not tell us in the comments below this post?)
One person I spoke to, Beate, was 16 at the time and living in East Germany. Although she didn’t live in Berlin and didn’t quite feel the impact of the news as fully as those living in Berlin, there was a marked atmosphere all the same. On the evening of 9 November, she was travelling back from Southern Germany to her home. As she and her family drove home, they passed through some towns and saw large numbers of people queuing. They couldn’t understand why. Back then, it was difficult to come by certain foods and other commodities such as cool clothes for the summer. So Beate and her family simply assumed that perhaps something that scarce had suddenly become available and people were clamouring to get their hands on some before it ran out.
As she discovered later, those people were actually waiting outside police stations, to get their hands on visas. Once she and her family arrived at home, Beate remembers being told by her family to “Take your passport and hurry – you can get a visa for travelling to the West.” Beate did just that, and recalls being surprised to find her local police station quite empty. Meanwhile, Beate’s partner, who lived in Berlin at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall, was among those that crossed into West Berlin as the first section of the Wall came down.
Speaking to me about the anniversary of such a momentous occasion, Beate likened the atmosphere to that of New Year’s Eve – I can well imagine how this might have been the case, as everyone waited for the lanterns to rise along the line of where the Berlin Wall once stood (http://www.independent.co.uk/incoming/in-pictures-border-of-lights--25th-anniversary-of-fall-of-berlin-wall-9849154.html?action=gallery&ino=1). I have a British friend who was in Berlin to witness this spectacular sight. Looking at these pictures, which are impressive enough on the screen, I can only imagine how much more of an impact it must have had on those that were actually there to see it in person - it must have been amazing!)
Meanwhile, in West Germany, my friend, Annabel, recalls being in her living room, watching events unfold live on the television. Like me, she was only 11 years old at the time (amusingly, she shares my birthday!) and so says that she didn’t really understand what was happening – but the scenes she watched on television that day are ones she will never forget: the wall tumbling down and people celebrating everywhere. She had a pen friend in East Germany in those days and remembers thinking that her pen friend’s family could travel wherever they liked, now that the Wall had come down. She was pleased because she knew that, from this day on, they would have to endure no more queuing, no more food shortages and no more restrictions.
As for me, I have no real memory of seeing the events unfold on the television, and most likely didn’t follow them in the newspapers either – but I did know that the Wall had come down. I considered it unfair that, in a country as advanced as Germany is, in attitude as well as technologically, they could still have something as restrictive as a Wall, coupled with such severe punishment if ever you dared to cross it in search of a better life.
I'll confess that, as an 11 year old, I didn’t really understand a great deal of the history or the politics surrounding the Wall’s existence, nor was I really old enough to comprehend the political concerns, on either side of the Wall, as it came down again (and it seems there were many - as reported in an article taken from the archives of the Economist: http://www.economist.com/node/14788230?fsrc=scn/tw/te/bl/ed/whenthepartysover).
Even though I didn't fully appreciate the political implications, I was aware that a great many people had lost their lives trying to cross the Wall and so, in my mind, pulling it down gave the Germans the freedom they had always deserved to have, to move from one side of the country to the other with no more limitations. And maybe, to an 11 year old English girl, that was the thing that counted most of all.
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