Monday, November 09, 2009

Berlin: 20 years after the wall
The scenes in Berlin tonight are impressive and evocative, as world leaders gathered to mark 20 years since the dramatic night that the wall began to come down. It was particularly poignant to see former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev taking part in the commemorations, 22 years after President Reagan's famous speech calling on him 'Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall'. In the event, it was the people of Berlin themselves who tore it down.
As a nine-year-old then, I have only the haziest of recollections of the event, but remember seeing the pictures on breakfast television and knowing something very important was happening. How important, I only realised in later years. Now, having visited Berlin twice to see our twin borough of Reinickendorf, it all seems more real to me. One of the most interesting parts of our first trip was a visit to a museum near Tegel airport commemorating the airlift of the late 1940s and the period of partition during the Cold War. A part of the wall has been erected in the grounds, shown below.
One of our hosts told me the moving story of how he had been out of the country in 1961 and returned to find the wall had been erected, and the City divided. Another council official told how he had been responsible for helping an East German borough make the transition from communist rule, and had to deal with the often disturbing effects of the Stasi files held by the government on local people there.

It seems now almost literally unbelievable that in our recent history an armed frontier divided a major European City marking a global contest between democracy and communism. Many people have offered their reflections today, far more eloquently than I can manage. David Cameron and Margaret Thatcher have both given their thoughts, but I give the last word to German Chanceller Merkel, herself from East Germany:

'Today marks a truly happy moment of German and European history. Twenty years ago the door to freedom opened up and a seemingly invincible wall that divided a people and an entire continent suddenly became permeable. It was one of the happiest moments of my life. '

No comments: