Ok, let’s talk about ‘Where were you when’ moments: each generation has their own. In my lifetime so far, I can count ‘Where were you when Diana died?’, ‘Where were you on 9/11?’, ‘Where were you when the Wall came down?’ and ‘Where were you when you first heard about this thing called Brexit?’

But let’s not think too much about the latter for the moment and turn to that very special day in November 28 years ago. I remember where I was on 9 November 1989, and, I’m afraid, it’s not very exciting or special at all. I was at home that Thursday night, watching the German news programme Heute at 7pm. I saw all these people in Berlin, having climbed up the Wall and standing on it, cheering. So much excitement and joy. And it was all a bit surreal. To be honest, I don’t think that I, teenager that I was, quite grasped what was really happening there at that moment in time. I had grown up in (the very west of) West Germany – which was ‘Germany’ for us, the other country was the ‘DDR’ – and for me it was normal that Germany was divided. I had, after all, never known anything else. No big deal.

My family didn’t have any relatives in the former GDR, so it didn’t really figure any way in my daily life. Therefore, I’ve got to admit that, when the Wall came down, it was just something that happened. Great, of course, since no country should be divided, but that was it basically. I can’t recall any particular emotional upheaval. It took some time for me to understand the enormity of this Peaceful Revolution and also to consider that for the generation of my grandparents, for example, having two Germanys was not normal at all, as it was for me.

So far, so boring (me). The next day in school, I was confronted with the stories of some people who got much more engaged. I heard that some in my year had somehow managed to get a ride with older friends, who were already in the possession of driving licences and cars, and had driven all through the night to Berlin. They wanted to be part of what was happening, and when I heard that I had a bit of a “Oh, I think I missed something here” moment. If they’re now being asked the “Where where you when” question, they definitely have something better to tell than me with my boring “watching the news” story.

Anyway, moving on. Now, 28 years after the Wall came down, the fact that Germany is one unified country is for me as normal as the division was before. And after having explored what used to be ‘the East’ for us but are in fact, at least partly, regions that are in the centre of Germany, I can’t believe in hindsight that so much of our cultural and intellectual history, so many treasures, so much beautiful landscapes, so many fabulous cities were hidden behind the Iron Curtain and out of sight. I’ve been to Leipzig and Dresden, to Erfurt and Weimar, visited the Wartburg where Luther translated the New Testament into German in 80 days, been to fabulous museums, sat in lovely cafés, ate in nice restaurants and got used to what for me were ‘new’ German dialects. Just as it was surreal seeing people standing on the Wall, that night in November 28 years ago, it’s now surreal to think that this country in the middle of Europe was once divided. Just imagine. The things that can happen in a lifetime. Next time, I only need to make sure not to just stay put in front of the news but get a bit closer to the action …


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Discover Germany.

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