On Monday the city celebrated the fall of The Berlin Wall in 1989. To mark the event, a symbolic wall of dominoes that snaked along the old border between east and west was felled, and Angela Merkel, Dmitry Medvedev, Nicolas Sarkozy, Gordon Brown and Hilary Clinton gave speeches at the Brandenburg Gate followed by a performance by Bon Jovi.
I had arranged to meet The Bavarian at Cafe Einstein on Unter den Linden, which should have been a short walk from Potsdamer Platz had it not been for the domino wall and various police barricades and checkpoints in the area. Thus, I was able to contemplate life in Berlin 20 years ago as I walked around the cold, wet city desperately trying to get from East to West Berlin.
I finally made it after nearly an hour and was looking forward to having a nice cafe latte when The Bavarian promptly informed me that Cafe Einstein was too expensive and that we ought to leave for the Brandenburg Gate in order to find an optimum position. However, as it was raining and everyone had their umbrellas up, our view of the stage was completely blocked. We waited around for about half an hour, then went home to watch the event on TV like the rest of the world.
Twenty years is not such a long time in history, and despite what we have been seeing on the television about the fall of the wall, the people here are not all jumping around with joy nor are they united. When I got off the train in Potsdamer Platz, where toppling of the domino wall began, someone had scrawled ‘Capitalism Kills’ on one of the walls – it is the type of graffiti that one sees frequently in Berlin. Where we live in Prenzlauer Berg, we have a Communist MP. It is not unusual to hear people talking about how things were better in the DDR – everyone had a job, it was less stressful, rents and basic goods were cheaper.
I recently met Matthais Rau, an East Berliner who was childhood friends with Angela Merkel. He wanted to study medicine, but the state forbid him to because his father was a priest (Merkel also came from a religious family, however she was a member of the young socialist political group – and interestingly did not participate in the protests against the DDR). Rau commemorated the day the wall fell at the point at which he first crossed it – the bridge in Bornholmer Strasse (nicknamed Bösebrücke or Evil Bridge). This was where the wall was opened first, and also where Merkel crossed.
Although Matthais is starkly anti-DDR, he also has stories of old friends who got lost in the free market and became impoverished and depressed as a result.
There is also the question of unity – Berliners seem to instinctively know who is an Oestie and who is a Westie, and many people, especially from the old West, express the opinion that although they are happy the wall came down, the people from the East should belong to a different country.
Berlin has no doubt gone through an astounding amount of change over the last two decades – more than any other European country – however it still has a long way to go…