Monday, November 9, 2009

Remembering The Fall of Berlin Wall

My, how time flies

We have all exclaimed "how fast time flies." It took years of time to reach high school graduation. I thought it would never come. I thought the day would never come to get to drive. Now, with advanced years, time is no longer slow as Moses. It is like a flash of lightening.

Twenty years ago this past June 4, the Chinese People's Liberation Army crushed the demonstrators in Beijing's Tiananmen (English: "Gate of Heavenly Peace" indeed an ironic name). This was followed by student demonstrations a few weeks later in Berlin, Germany. By late September, 1989, the West German demonstrations against political repression had grown. Then at midnight, Nov. 9, the infamous Berlin Wall fell. Difficult to believe that all unfolded twenty years ago.

President Ronald Reagan and Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev worked to create a climate change in the Cold War. Reagan's speech in Berlin, June 1987, telling Gorbachev to "bring down this wall" was one of many events that led the Soviet satellites to turn to the West.

The night the Wall fell, Jody and I were in our dorm room of the Teacher's Building on the campus of Nanjing University, China. We were teaching English conversation for students at the university and at the Jinling Theological Seminary, a few blocks away.

As always, we were tuned to the British Broadcasting Corporation's English broadcasts that night. Along with people around the world, we could not believe the good news. The Berlin Wall that had separated Germans since it was erected in 1961 was no more.

At the close of WWII, the Allies divided Germany into French, British, Russian and American sectors. Because so many East Germans were leaving the Russian sector, the Soviets closed the border in 1952. That did not stop the flow seeking a better life in West Germany, so the wall was built. It only slowed down the exodus. More than 2.6 million East Germans escaped to West Germany from 1949 to 1961.

On that eventful November night in a East Berlin hotel restaurant a couple remembers that as the main course was brought to their table, a woman came wandering in, stumbling up and down shouting: "Die Mauer ist gefallt! Die Mauer ist gefallt!" Everyone thought she was mad or having a mental breakdown when suddenly the cooks came from the kitchen waving their arms and saying the same thing.

Those who were there, or on radio or television, watching people marching for their rights in Berlin knew they were watching history. At this 20th anniversary, Paul Bent of Ireland, wrote the BBC the impact the event and their coverage had was tremendous. We felt the same way.

At Jody's classes the next day, all the students were aware of what had happened 10,000 miles away. Some spoke openly that this was what China needed. She had to caution them to watch what they said. There were always those who were watching and listening and she did not want their excitement to be taken as revolution talk.

The Communist leadership of China, made no comments immediately. But in the factories, schools and the back streets there was a feeling of a coming change. It was slowly evolving. The Chinese government to this day has never admitted to killing demonstrators twenty years ago. It is still a non-event for them. But their world was changing and one day the truth will be admitted when a more liberal forward-looking Chinese government and society emerges.

How fast these twenty years have come and gone. All the freeways, skyscrapers, colorful Western dress, new bridges and underground metro systems, more millionaires than America, the Olympics, more openness to the world, was only a dream. Now it is a reality.

If we have another twenty years we can be assured it will travel at light speed, bringing even more exciting, world-changing events.

Photo: On left is Lao She's son, Shu Yi and some other professors of Chinese literature at Lao She 100th anniversary of his birth Symposium, 1999.

1 comment:

Pilland said...

Very interesting indeed!
Just to complete Your report, I invite You to see my blog with borders, in which there is also a rich collection of "pre-wall" Berlins (1950-1961).
Best wishes from an Estonian living in Italy!