Monday, November 9, 2009

Mauerfall: Berlin Wall Anniversary in the News

Today is the 20th anniversary of the opening of the Berlin Wall, which led very quickly to its dismantlement (fitting, since it was erected very quickly) and within a year to the reunification of Germany.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is representing the United States at the celebrations, along with UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, former Polish President Lech Walesa, Russian President Medvedev, and various EU leaders.

Today, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev jointly retraced the path of the first East Germans who crossed into the West after the opening of the Wall. For Merkel, it was a repeat performance, because she was actually in that crowd of Ossies going west.

As I've noted here before, I spent that historic time watching from afar, as a political science student and campus newspaper editor at the University of Wisconsin. One impression I had then was reinforced when I read a line by (I think) German writer Peter Schneider, who noted that the spontaneous celebrations took so many people by surprise because they saw that Germans could be spontaneous, laughing and partying, so unlike the stereotype of them around the world. (Assuming I've got the correct writer attribution there, it's an appropriate one. Schneider is the author of, among many other works, Der Mauerspringer -- a collection of short stories translated in English as The Wall Jumper.)

It's rare, I think, that truly world-changing events take place in ways that are almost entirely positive and peaceful. There were certainly violent results of the fall of the Soviet Union, but the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the celebrations, and the reunification of Germany demonstrated that these things can happen without bloodshed.

So, again, I watch from afar.

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