Monday, November 9, 2009

Celebrating the fall of the Wall

Monday marks the 20th anniversary of Berliners freely being allowed to cross the Wall, built in 1961 to divide their city.

BBC Radio Scotland's reporter Huw Williams is in Berlin to see the celebrations and reflect on the consequences.

He will be keeping a diary through the week about his trip.

Waiting in Heathrow for the flight to Berlin, I heard a German man talking in English to his young son.

Perhaps they'd been looking at one of the articles in just about every newspaper or magazine.

"That Wall came down 20 years ago," the father said.

His son replied, as young children always do: "Why?"

Brandenburg Gate

As dad replied, I could hear the vitriol in his voice.

"Because we hated that Wall," he said.

And of course many many East Berliners feel the same.

Selke was just 16 when the Wall was breached.

Her family lived on one of the streets that ran up to the Wall, and she gets very emotional whenever she talks about it.

"It's like an explosion in my heart," she told me.

"Before I had no chances. After the Wall came down, I had every chance."

She'd been being groomed as a gymnast for the old East Germany.

If the Wall had stayed, she could have been representing the GDR at international level.

But she wanted to be an artist.

Now she can make her art. Very abstract, action paintings.

Not the sort of thing that the East German regime would have encouraged.

But there is another view.

Marko is 46 - some 10 years older than Selke.

Dominos along the Berlin Wall

He told me that when he heard people were being allowed to cross the Wall, he didn't believe it.

But after two months, he decided to go and see for himself.

The West Berlin government paid people visiting from the East money, because the costs were so much higher.

Marko laughed, as he remembered that some people found a way to wipe the stamp from their passport, so they could get the grant several times.

But even then, he said, he didn't think re-unification of Germany would make any difference to him, personally.

"Not until I lost my job," he says.

"My company was bought by a West German company, and they wanted me to move 120km, but I refused to go."

Then things got tough.

"It was hard," he told me.

"There was no work, and the cattle we raised on the family farm were worth nothing. They didn't meet European rules, so we couldn't sell them."

Despite years of training as a chef, he couldn't find work in a kitchen, so he had to take a job managing a team of security guards.

"It's okay, but I'd really like to be running a kitchen again."

Perhaps that kind of nostalgia, mixed with West Germans' resentment at the costs of re-unification, explain why a recent poll found one in seven Berliners wish the Wall was back.

One man I was talking to warned me not to read too much into that statistic.

"People say everything was wonderful then," he told me.

"The weather was better, the girls were prettier, and everyone had a job. But it's never going to happen. It doesn't matter how many people say it. The Wall isn't coming back."

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