I was only 5 years old when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. So I have no recollection of that day. I once had to interview my parents about it for a school assignment and they said we spent the night together watching it on TV, not believing (them) or not understanding (me) what we were witnessing. I should see if I can still find that essay somewhere in our attic back home. 20 years later, I’m living in London, following the celebrations through the eyes of the British media.
Since I personally have no recollection of the day, I first didn’t feel very strongly about its 20th year anniversary. The flood of information, pictures, videos, interactive time lines, and politicians’ soundbites overwhelmed and even bored me.
Only just now, sitting in front of my TV, watching BBC, did I suddenly become emotional about today. Somebody said to me the other day, “The best way to look at Germany is from the outside. You just understand it so much better when you’re abroad.” This may be true for any country, I don’t know. But it’s definitely true for my experience of Germany.
When I listened to the BBC and read the foreign press, I realized what a symbolic moment the fall of the Berlin Wall was, not just for Germans but for lots of everywhere. I knew this, of course, because I had learned it at school. But it’s a different kind of knowing and understanding when you see it from the outside, when you think that millions of people are looking at the Brandenburg Gate right now, which was once a guarded border and is now where I sometimes went for peaceful runs in the evening. Only 20 years later. I don’t know, it’s hard to describe.
I think it’s one of those rare moments when I feel like I connect with the bigger picture of what’s going on in the world; with history, if you like. It wasn’t a particularly strong instance of connecting with history and I’m fine now. For example, when Obama was elected President, this feeling was a lot stronger. What it must have been like to be at the Berlin Wall as it came down that night, 20 years ago. I can’t imagine.
And because this post is hopelessly sentimental and cheesy already, I finish it with a cheesy song that most German’s would consider the official reunification hymn. I like it…. it might connect me with history again for a few seconds.