Monday, 9 November 2009

Mauerfall: The Domino Effect

For Germany, 9th November 2009 marks the anniversary of that evening twenty years before, when a prematurely read press-release inadvertently led to free-access for East German citizens across the border to West Berlin. The East Berliners jumped at the opportunity and flooded through the border-crossings, peacefully overwhelming bemused border guards who were unsure what their orders were.

Within days the structure and deadly apparatus of The Berlin Wall was being dismantled, to the sound of jubilant cheers and a thousand people with hammer and chisels pecking away at The Wall for souvenirs.

Within a year, East and West Germany were reunified into the Federal Republic of Germany.

And within that same year, many Soviet satellite states across Eastern Europe similarly rejected their Communist overlords in democratic parliamentary elections.

The Cold War - and some historians would argue the real end of the Second World War - was over.

Whilst the fall of The Berlin Wall was not by any means the cause of the downfall of Communist puppet regimes, it was symbolic of the effects of Gorbachev's economic and social reforms -perestroika and glasnost, demokratizatsiya and Uskoreniye - which were dramatically changing the politics of the Eastern Bloc. As such, the fall of the wall is a symbol not just for the reunification of Germany, but of a spirit of Freiheit (freedom) that would effect the whole world.

It is not surprising then that the twentieth anniversary of that fateful night's events is a significant moment shared by all of us in the free world, and that the world looked to Berlin to lead the celebrations. And lead them she did! With free concerts by everyone from U2 to Placido Domingo, from Bon Jovi to the Staatskapelle orchestra. Plus spectacular firework displays, naturally, this being Germany.

Many important leaders flew in to give their speeches about freedom: Nicolas Sarkozy, Dmitri Medvedev, Mikhail Gorbachev, Gordon Brown, Hilary Clinton, and of course Angela Merkel.

The fall of The Wall was like one domino toppling in a line which started with Gorby and included Hungary opening its borders to the West and the election of Solidarnosc in Poland. It was inevitable then that as a symbol of the event, a line of a thousand giant polystyrene dominoes, representing sections of The Berlin Wall, were erected along the former course of The Wall. They stood all the way from Potsdamer Platz down past the Brandenburg Gate, by the redesigned Reichstag building, across the Spree (scene of many failed escape attempts) to the ultra-modern Marie-Elisabeth-Lüders-Haus and the new parliament complex of a newly unified Germany.

The first domino was pushed over by co-founder of the Solidarnosc free union movement, and subsequently president of Poland, Lech Wałęsa.

The dominoes had been sent out blank to schools, artists and organisations throughout Germany and around the world for them to paint. The result was an eclectic mix of style and artistic ability, but the effect was undoubtedly colourful and joyful in expression, even if many of the younger creatives hadn't even been born when The Wall fell.

We walked along the line of dominoes the day before, then stationed ourselves at the end of the line in the pouring rain on the night of the ninth to see the last one fall. Though not German, we felt at one with the crowd for whom the celebration reminded them of perhaps the happiest days of their recent history. We cracked open a bottle of sekt as the dominoes toppled along the banks of the Spree, gave a toast to Freiheit, then made our way back home through the cold damp night. We weren't all that keen to stay on for the Bon Jovi concert.


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