Monday, November 9, 2009

On this day, twenty years ago

The Fall of the Berlin Wall, November 9th 1989

In the summer of 1983 I went with a flat-mate on a trip to Berlin, mainly because it was the cheapest city in Europe to fly to, and at that time, flying was very expensive. We found a wealthy, cosmopolitan German city. Of course, we wanted to see the wall, so we walked though a wood in a park until we stumbled on it: smooth concrete, with a rounded top, and covered in graffiti. The west Berlin authorities had built observation towers so that tourists like us could take a peep over, so up we climbed. I still remember my shock when I reached the top: beyond the smooth concrete we saw the trenches, barbed wire, guard dogs and sentry towers. West Berlin suddenly felt very different - like a prison, though, of course, it was the other side that was the prison. During our visit we obtained a 1-day visa to visit the East, and again, I still have very strong impressions of that day: the weirdness of being in a place with no adverts. Not to mention no bars, cafes or shops. The only shop I remember finding was a Marxist-Leninist bookshop. So much for my reminiscences. Six years later, it was all swept away. For a more detailed, and better-informed take on those events, read Alistair Noon's excellent essay on Litter. You'll also find Alistair's translations of contemporary German poet Gunter Kunert.

8 comments:

John B-R said...

On this day 20 years ago Ronald Reagan ended the cold war

omo bob said...

Irish rockers U2 returned to Berlin for a free mini-concert Thursday in front of the Brandenburg Gate, playing its classic singles and a duet with Jay-Z even as the show was obscured from public view by a nearly 6-1/2-foot (two-meter) high metal barrier...

John B-R said...

If only Reagan were still alive he could have intoned, "Mr Hewson (or Mr Z) tear down that wall!"

AidanSemmens said...

I don't know about weirdness - being in a place with no adverts seems rather like paradise. In fact, I could almost make a principle out of that: for a place to be truly lovely, one of the requirements (admittedly only one of them) is for there to be no adverts visible or audible.
Communism in practice was undoubtedly pretty awful in lots of ways, but I can well understand why some people are nostalgic for it.

Alistair Noon said...

I don't really go into the phenomenon of Ostalgie in any detail here, but my mate Paul Cooke does in his book

Representing East Germany Since Unification: From Colonization to Nostalgia

The concept of Ostalgie has been used by Westerners to attack whinging Easterners unhappy at parts of what's happened since 1989. Three of the attitudes knocking about are:

1. Western views that say we wuz better off without them, Mrs Merkel, Put Back That Wall.
2. Eastern views that say life was better in the GDR.
3. Eastern views that say life was worse in the GDR but we aint happy with life in the Federal Republic either.

Number 2 isn't actually very prevalant, but some Westerners like to confuse it with number 3, or won't differentiate between 2 and 3.

AidanSemmens said...

Interesting background, Alistair. I have no evidence of my own on the lives or attitudes of Ossies - my comment about nostalgia for Communism was based at least in part on conversations I've had with a few Lithuanians and Poles. In both those countries the issue seems to be tied up with the generation gap, young people revelling in consumerism and older folk decrying it. On that score, at least, I'm with the old uns.

Alan Baker said...

On adverts: I guess there must have been posters glorifying the Workers' State etc., but I can't remember them. But I do remember coming up the escalator at Friedrichstrasse station (the frontier post) and thinking how restful it was to pass blank walls instead being bombarded with visual stimuli.

Alistair Noon said...

Hi Aidan

As Alan's recent reports from Bulgaria indicated, the collapse of communism seems to have hit various countries differently. My sense (and I don't have reams of social science data to back this up with) is that areas close to big markets like Germany (Western Poland, Czech Republic) came out of 1989 relatively well in economic terms. Places farther away, like Bulgaria, didn't. East Germany is, as it always was, something of a special case because of being hitched up directly to another state, namely West Germany. While other countries kept a measure of protectionism through the 90s East German economy and society got the full works more or less straight away.

Generations play a part here too, you're right. Until quite recently, the PDS, which was the follow-on party from the East German communist party, and which has now hitched up with West German ex-Social Democrats to form Die Linke, had a membership predominantly over about 60...