The day the Wall came down — memories of Berlin '89
Dr Patrick Treacy recounts a famous night twenty years ago in Berlin, when both communism and the Berlin Wall collapsed from the Irish Medical Times Nov 2009
By: Treacys Travel Tales
Later that night, he climbed the scaffold and secured a foothold on top of the Berlin Wall. Somebody threw him a small hammer and he broke a piece of rubble from the wall. The people below him cheered and for a brief moment, he was another unknown leader of the assembled citizens below. These are his memories...
"The moon rose and a cold wind started to blow through the half-opened window, biting like frozen needles into the edges of my face. It blew in a haunting, lamenting tone, like the echo of vanished memories. Before long, its presence had filled each corner of the small room.
Slowly, I lifted my head from the letter that I was reading and looked out over the darkening skies of Germany. The night had a peculiar intensity about it, New York-ish, like the whole city was standing at the edge of an abyss from which there was no return. I thought I could hear the haunting melody of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony playing from a residence further along Potsdamer Platz.
I walked to the window and listened as the almost inaudible allegro ascended from somewhere out there in the void, slowly gaining in strength before the cold winds bullied it and whipped it away to a more peaceful part of the city. I kept listening, waiting for the sound to materialise again, thinking how appropriate it was that Beethoven’s work celebrating the universal brotherhood of man should commemorate the ending of the Cold War, and with it the old order that shaped the world in which my own generation had grown up.
For a brief moment, I thought about the composer, remembering how he had originally wanted to premiere the work in Berlin because he felt insecure as to its reception in Vienna, where Rossini was becoming more popular.
It was sad to think that when the symphony opened on its first night in Vienna in 1824, Beethoven had by then become so deaf that he probably never even heard a violin note of the divine work that he had created. It was even sadder to remember that he remained unaware of the tumultuous applause he received until somebody turned him from the conductor’s rostrum to face the audience. For a short while, the memories of the letter drifted away, floating on the wings of an almost perfect Fifth, which had now re-emerged from the grey mists over Potsdamer.
It arose unerringly, taking on a new vigour, hovering and circling the neighbourhood like an orphan note that was waiting for Von Karajan himself to come and give it meaning. The choral voices grew more powerful, even angelic, transcending the chaos of the city and rising to the skies in triumph, as if they were appealing directly to God to witness the coming of a new age. I remained listening as the wind changed again and the other noises of the Berlin night dripped onto the canvas.
On the streets below, vast crowds were building up, and amidst the blare of a hundred alpine horns, a few of them attempted to sing that enduring Lutheran hymn, Nun Dankt alle Gott. They sang instinctively and when they saw me watching them, their song gained might and blended with the symphony, as if some great celestial conductor was in the night sky directing their performance. It was the song of the Deutsche Volk, sung by a people who had borne the weight of the hammer of history for too long and who now rejoiced to the sound of church bells that had remained silenced nearly for half a century.
It was the song of the young girls in the red and black folk dresses, who handed out white flowers and probably the pent-up emotions of their race; the song of the armies that had marched along Unten den Linden; and the song of the seven people crammed into in the little green Trabant below me that filled the street with exhaust fumes. They cried, “Die Mauer ist weg!” and beckoned me to share their joy and join them in their march to the Wall and watch the towering iron cranes lift Honecker’s graffiti-painted concrete slabs of oppression to one side for the last time.
On that freezing cold November night, I joined the surging crowds and made my way along the crammed pavements of Potsdzamerstrasse to eventually reach the green copper chariots of the Quadriga, the statue that graced the pillars of the Brandenburg Gate.
About three hours later, like many others in the crowd, I climbed on a scaffold of clasped hands and secured a temporary foothold on the side of part of the decaying edifice.
Somebody threw me up a small hammer and under the glow of an array of klieg lights, I broke a piece of rubble from the wall. The people below me cheered and for a brief moment, I was another unknown leader of the assembled citizens of the New World Army.
A knot of emotion then arose in my throat as I looked out at the thousands of people silhouetted against a sea of flashbulbs and flickering sparklers. I knew from that moment onwards that the world that I lived in would never be the same.
For a moment, the crowds became soundless and in the blur of differing emotions, I actually became fearful of the new order that we were helping to create. The Soviet Emipre had indeed collapsed, but nobody was willing to look far enough above their bottles of sekt to care that the factions of religious fundamentalism that they controlled could now arise and blight the smug world we all took for granted. Then a song coming from a tape player in the crowd below broke the moment of silence and like a stone dropping into the greater pond of life, its ripples spread out into the cold night air.
It was a Bob Dylan tune:
‘The times, they are a-changin’.’
“The line it is drawn, the curse it is cast, the slow one now will later be last,
“As the present now will later be past, the order is rapidly fading,
“And the first one now will later be last, for the times they are a changin’.”
Posted in Guests on 09 September 2009
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The author is a travel writer with Ireland's 'Social and Personal' Magazine and an invited video contributor to many travel websites including TripFilms, Backpacker magazine and National Geographic's 'Everyday Explorers'. See website www.patricktreacy.com