The Anniversary of the Berlin Wall…
The haunting pictures of human frenzy, that mark the memory of November 9th 1989, are immortalised in our memory as the day that changed the shape of Europe forever.
For on that ordinary, cold November day in Germany, its people toppled not only a 140 km wall, but also a communist and Soviet regime that had spanned for decades.
East Germany was suffering in desperate poverty, while West Germany sat next to it, guiltily rich in comparison. Forbidden from building houses or even repairing broken ones, the place fell into disrepair and slums. Families were separated by the divide, the nation was held breathless in the grip of communism.
Guarding the divide was not only the Berlin Wall, but also a continuous line of high metal fences, barbed wire, watchtowers, booby-traps and minefields.
The guards with rifles slung over their shoulders sat on roof tops and in their observation towers. Only old people were allowed to live closest to the wall because they were too frail to make any attempts to escape. On top of the wall with the broken glass cemented in place, a brave soul might make it through all the obstacles only to have their hands shredded to pieces. If that wasn’t grizzly enough, the crosses on the Western side showing how far someone had made it before being shot down, painted a picture of heartless repression.
A prison, more then a border, citizens were murdered trying to cross it. Gamblers of luck tried sneaking over, the frustrated and fatalistic tried jumping it, angry plotters smashed trucks and cars into it, attempting to knock it down. It was a virtual and a visible barrier, a nightmare they never woke up from.
Among the colourless landscape, the lack of colour and billboards, the empty silence of very little traffic, lived the army of Stasi who pried into every aspect of the East Germans lives. The Stasi possessed spies, both paid and unpaid. Some estimates say there was one for every six and a half members of the population. Success was unheard of in East Germany and involved a pact with the devil – if you wanted to attend a university, enter a sports-club, become a lawyer or marry a foreigner, you would pay with your soul.
For anyone who didn’t experience the Germany in that time, it is hard to imagine what an overwhelming feeling of relief, joy, and unreality took over them the day the Berlin wall was finally brought down.
Suddenly, the years of degrading searches at border crossings like Checkpoint Charlie, the separation of loved ones, walled in on the Eastern side, ended in an instant.
There was a man who had been working in West Berlin on the day the wall went up in August 13, 1961 – he never got back to East Berlin that night. He was seen walking to the wall every so often wearing a bright red shirt. One Easter morning on the other side his wife and daughter, held up some babies for him to see as he peered through his binoculars at them – that was how he saw his grandchildren. Moments later the women put the children back in the prams and hurried off. Not long after an East German police car went by.
Most people on both sides were unquestioningly aware something wasn’t right with this way of life. Others blindly followed, afraid to speak up. For decades the dogs and soldiers with machine guns guarded the main streets of Berlin, cut off by this cold, hard cement wall symbolic of Soviet control.
Images of people standing on the wall the day it came down are rife. An image of revolution as the guards looked on, powerless to stop them. There were those who carried sledgehammers to smash the wall. There were tears and laughter, joy and celebration. And finally a large chunk of the wall was knocked down. The reign of power was over.
Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Czechoslovakia all saw a revolution of their own not long after that. Then the inevitable happened: the dissolution of the USSR and the Eastern Bloc countries joining of the EU.
It was a turning point for our cosy little Europe as countries queued to be allowed in. The Czech Republic and Estonia, Hungary and Poland, Romania and Bulgaria and many others. Suddenly Europe wasn’t so cosy anymore – we were stronger.
Europe’s freedom of expression, rights and courage, suddenly rested on the unity and democracy of both our Eastern and Western countries.
A united Germany became the economic wheelhouse of Europe. The young moved on and some never looked back. But some of the old never could. Even the Stasi themselves were somewhat victims. The old Stasi men have been found living in the same drab houses in compounds on the outskirts of Potsdam; the same stained high rise blocks in East Berlin, frequenting the same pubs they did when they were members of the Stasi. They show it’s hard to change what you’ve known for so long. But Germany has moved on.
Like Ireland, it owes much of its present success to Europe. Throughout history the EU has never been more united. Together with Europe, and while going it alone too, we are doing well.
The past will never be forgotten by Germany or the rest of Europe affected by the Soviets communist clutches. The Berlin Wall may have been smashed down, but it helped build the Europe of the future.
The European Commission Representation in Ireland:
- Is part of the Commission’s network of representative offices throughout the Member States of the European Union.
- Ensures that citizens’ voices are heard in the corridors of power in Brussels.
- Communicates EU affairs at both national and local levels.
- Provides information to Irish people on the changes and recent developments in Brussels.
- Gathers information and keeps the Commission in Brussels informed of various political, social and economic developments in Ireland.
- As part of their expanding listening function, the Representation plan to conduct public consultations on various ideas that the Commission is developing.