The fall of the Berlin Wall, 20 years later

The Berlin Wall fell on 9 November 1989, precipitated by a news conference that went from ordinary to extraordinary, as apparently Günter Schabowski’s misreading of the official documents opened everything up earlier than anticipated.

. . . das Tritt, nach meiner Kenntnis, ist das sofort, unverzüglich.

With those events deep in my memory, I went to Berlin for the commemorations of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

November 9 is special in German history, it’s the German day of destiny (Schicksalstag), with a number of good and bad events happening on November 9, ranging from the proclamation of the Weimar Republic (1918), the Beer Hall Putsch (1923), Kristallnacht (1938), to yes, the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989).

Aside from the official functions that turned the middle of town into a labryinth of barriers, police cordons, and closed-off streets, I spent most of my visit on Museum Island. I missed it on my very short last visit, but this time I bought the three-day admission ticket, and visited one of the museums each of the days, the Altes Museum, the Pergamon Museum, and the Neues Museum (which true to its name, was recently reopened after being closed for 70 years). These are spectacular exhibitions, it’s incredible how much stuff was carted off from Greece and the Middle East and ended up in places like here, the British Museum, and the Louvre. Some of the stuff in the Neues Museum, in turn, was carted off to Russia after the end of the war.

Oh, I also toured the East Side Gallery, now nicely restored and free of graffiti, and the former site of Checkpoint Charlie, now tourist central.

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Trabi and Trabi

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I based myself this time in West Berlin, just a few steps off of the Ku’damm. Last time I stayed near Alexanderplatz, and I’d say that eastern Berlin is looking a bit better than the west these days. The Ku’damm area is still glitzy, but it dates from the 1970’s and is looking a bit worn in places. For the big city atmosphere, the grand boulevards, and heavy crowds, West Berlin is the place to be, however. The trendy stuff is now near Alexanderplatz in the east, and the bureaucratic center, stretching from the Kanzlersamt to the Brandenburg Gate, is monumental, if a bit staid. So the city wears many faces, and has something for everyone.

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Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, Ku'damm

The architecture is also worth mentioning. This is a city of big projects and bold experimentation, in stark contrast to many cities in Europe, and certainly my own current city of Frankfurt. Some of the buildings succeed in a big way, like the complex around the Philharmonie and Neues Nationalgalerie. The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church is also a major winner, the dark octagon and the deep blue glass blocks are remarkably effective. Other buildings fail in a big way- I’m not a fan of the Potsdamer Platz development, except for the train station entrances. The whole area comes across as a bit cold and artificial. The government center also doesn’t quite work, it’s monumental and dense with symbolism, but lacks beauty. The roof of the Reichstag, on the other hand, is an instant and unforgettable symbol.

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Berliner Dom and the Fernsehturm

Okay, so for the celebrations, I braved the crappy weather, which was cold rain throughout most of the ceremonies. And since I arrived way too late, and didn’t expect the changes to the transport schedules, I skipped out on the Brandenburg Gate stuff, and headed on foot to Potsdamer Platz. The crowds were thinner, and I guess I arrived early enough to get into the ‘inner zone’ closest to the starting point of the domino drop.

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Brandenburg Gate (Brandenburger Tor)

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The Reichstag

The number of dignitaries was impressive, including Hilary Clinton, Nicolas Sarkozy, Gordon Brown, Henry Kissinger, Kofi Annan, Lech Walsea, Mikhail Gorbachev, and many others. I caught most of it on the big screens installed throughout the area. The musical offerings included Placido Domingo and Daniel Barenboim getting together for a performance of “Berliner Luft”, and a song by Jon Bon Jovi.

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After the domino drop and Bon Jovi. . .

The domino drop was the most anticipated event, and I have to say that it was a pretty colorful idea. They had been on display throughout its mile-long course along the path of the former Berlin Wall, and were for the most part decorated by numerous schools around Germany and elsewhere. It’s funny, since college students starting this year were born for the most part after the fall of the Wall. So it’s a memory for their parents and grandparents. The consequences of the fall of the Wall are of course felt around the world.

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1 comment so far

  1. vitasamb2001 on

    Like the kiss poster the best 🙂


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