Watching the dominoes fall in Berlin: Reflections on November 9, 2009

Brandenburg Gate

TWENTIETH ANNIVERSARIES ARE OFTEN melancholy affairs, no matter how happy and festive the occasion is. We can’t help but think of how much time has passed and how few of our dreams we have actually realized. Our joy over the past is often overshadowed by our ambivalence about the present. It is easy to ruin such an occasion. And that is what happened last night at the elaborate twentieth anniversary celebration of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The orchestral music and the political speeches by Mayor Wowereit, President Sarkozy, Prime Minister Brown, President Medvedev, Hillary Clinton, and Angela Merkel at the Brandenburg Gate were okay – standard fare in this sort of situation – but then, by golly, somehow whoever was in charge of the event had the brilliant idea of handing the whole thing – and not just the broadcast – over to TV “personality” Thomas Gottschalk, who transformed this historic night into just another boring, wordy, utterly forgettable TV event.

I think this overblown talkshow would have bored anyone sitting at home in the comfort of their heated living room, but for the two million or so of us huddled together in the icy rain, craning our necks to watch the pageantry on one of the several giant TV screens set up around the government district, the twenty years separating us from the dramatic opening of the Wall on November 9, 1989 seemed more like two hundred, as if it had nothing whatsoever to do with our lives…



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