The editors of Time Magazine released a book in 2009 entitled 1989: The Year that Defined Today’s World. No, it was not about Taylor Swift’s birth, although the title may be oddly accurate in that respect, as well. Instead, it commemorates huge world events such as Tiananmen Square protests, the creation of HTML and the the first browser: WorldWideWeb, the beginning conversations to dismantle apartheid in South Africa, the debut of The Simpsons,* and the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Although I was alive when the Berlin Wall fell 25 years ago, I don’t know if the memories of the television footage in my head are from the night of the actual event itself or from the subsequent viewings of those same images. All I know is that they are still powerful,** now even more so after spending five months in Germany earlier this year. I mean, I know people who grew up in East Germany; I’ve had dinner in their apartments and talked to them about what life was like during that time. I’ve watched the film The Lives of Others (fantastic, by the way) and have visited the Stasi museum in Leipzig where many of the tactics discussed in the movie are on display. I’ve been to the Berlin Wall Memorial at BernauerStraße and have seen images that have made me cry.***
It is amazing to me that the actual opening of the checkpoints happened as somewhat of an accident, after Guenther Schabowski, a spokesman for East Germany who was to announce that restrictions were being lifted, was asked when those changes would take effect and he, not being briefed on that part, replied that they were effective immediately. (To bring us back to 2014 for a second, “I can’t even.”)
But one more incredible thing about the whole situation is the importance of November 9th throughout German history. On a tour of Berlin earlier this year, our guide mentioned November 9th being known as Schicksalstag (“Fateful Day” or “The Day of Destiny” in Germany), because of the many defining moments that have happened on (as Europeans would write it) 9-11. Alan Nothnagle writes, “The events that have occurred on this day span the entire spectrum of human experience, from defeat to shame, from the profoundest horror to redemption and rebirth.” That’s a bold statement, but considering that the date encompasses (among several more events) Kristallnacht, in which Jewish property and businesses were destroyed in 1938; the end of the monarchy (and Kaiser Wilhelm II’s rule) and the beginning of the Weimar Republic in 1918; and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, I’d say the declaration is pretty accurate. (It also makes history tests a little easier in Germany: when in doubt, it was probably Nov. 9.)
Days like today make me thankful for the freedoms and opportunities I’ve had in my life, mindful of those who have not had the same, and more aware of the several sides of any situation (stories of many people who thrived under the East German regime, for example). May you be thankful/mindful/more aware of some of those things today, as well.
*Okay, that one might be a stretch…
**To be honest, I may or may not have shed a tear over today’s GoogleDoodle.