Berlin still in the shadow of the Wall 25 years on

Berliners celebrate the destruction of the wall. Picture: Getty
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IT IS almost a quarter of century since the world witnessed crowds with pickaxes and hammers tear down the most hated symbol of oppression ever built.

The events of 9 November, 1989 – the night the Berlin Wall fell – have burned themselves into the collective consciousness of us all. Who can ever forget the sheer unbridled joy of the easterners, marching through the barriers to a neon­-lit West that their rulers had always claimed was a fool’s paradise?

What began on that chilly night would morph into the planet’s biggest party: day followed day of riotous drinking and dancing, where strangers glugged from each other’s champagne bottle, kissed, hugged, cried and drank some more as each flake of reinforced concrete chipped from the “Anti-Fascist Protection Barrier” became another nail in the coffin of the state which erected it.

When it fell, so hated was it by Berliners that soon after the champagne corks stopped popping, it was dismantled wholesale and sold off around the globe. Now bits of it can be seen virtually everywhere in the world – except in the city where it was built.

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Every tourist who visits the capital of reunited Germany wants to see “the Wall” but has to make do with a few sections dotted here and there, together with a piece left in situ at the Bernauer Strasse crossing point.

So it will be lanterns instead of machineguns and wire when the fall of the wall is celebrated tomorrow – 9 November, 2014. Thousands of lights will illuminate where it once stood for three days over the anniversary, charting the path of the wall’s no man’s land through the centre of the city.

Thousands will flock to the city for the celebrations, the circus atmosphere going some way to disguise the reality of the failure to make two Germanies one.

The bill for reunification was calculated earlier this year at more £1.6 trillion – and rising. That cost has been borne by every German taxpayer and many others besides in the EU. It has paid for new roads and the demolition of old factories in the decrepit east. It has built new houses, hotels, hospitals, schools, bridges, farm buildings and power plants, and renovated grand old palaces and castles that the Communists allowed to fall into disrepair.

As a result, the average life expectancy for women has gone up from 77 to 83 and for men from 69 to 77. But one Germany remains a work in progress. The economic strength of East Germany rem­ains two-thirds that of the West, and parity in all things will still take many years to achieve.

Unemployment is chronically higher and a study released in August this year showed poverty was still more prevalent in the east. And neo-Nazism continues to stalk the fraulein-free towns where desperate, skin-headed men unable to find female company – more women have left to go west than men – embrace the ideals of the far right instead of a girlfriend.

Westerners still refuse to go east, easterners still continue to pour west. The exodus has contributed to the fact that parts of eastern Germany now have the lowest birthrates in the world.

A phrase that was popular a year after the Wall came down remains popular now. It is Die Mauer steht noch in den koepfchen – the wall still stands in the minds. And it is true.

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