Marius - Politics & the Berlin Wall: …
This week’s 20th anniversary celebrations of the toppling of the Berlin Wall took me back not to Berlin November 1989 - when I was in Australia - but Berlin 1999.
I was then a few months into a four year stay in the German capital
And it’s worth remembering through the hazy mists of celebration now that Germans and the world had mixed feelings about reuniting the city and the country.
In 1999 the anniversary was a welcome story for me as a freelance journalist in a city where the news tide had gone out a decade before. Official celebrations at the Brandenburg Gate provided a peg for stories on how the new Berlin commemorated its moment of redefinition.
Australian papers made it clear they were ready for stories of how the people’s joy ten years on matched the official party. At 60 cents a word I was ready to match that expectation at length, but not one private party could I find.
East and West I could find no celebrations and no sense that there was anything to celebrate.
Nobody wanted to go back to the old divisions, but for different reasons both sides looked on the reunification with little joy. West Germans resented the cost and they had a reminder of it in every pay packet, which included a tax to cover the cost of uniting the country.
And for people from the old East, while they were glad to be driving an Audi rather than a Trabi, any euphoria was punctured by the clear sense that they were the defeated side in a war.
The “East Berliners” I knew best were our nanny, Petra, her husband Lutz, a building worker, and their family. They were, in the tradition of the old East, reserved, but when you became part of their circle you were in forever.
Born in the mid-fifties, most of their lives had been lived in the divided city
On one memorable occasion we invited them around for Christmas drinks with our neighbours, at our house which was in the heart of Berlin’s leafy West.
After about ten minutes of not mingling with the “Wessis” Petra came up to me and said with “Ossi” directness: “We are going…we don’t like your friends.”
The wall had been down ten years but the difference between the old West and East - the “Wall in the Mind” - was very marked.
The West Berliners were equally separated from the East.
Many of our neighbours, in a suburb which was just 15 minutes drive from the Brandenburg Gate, had never, in ten years, been to the old East Berlin beyond the city centre. And they certainly had not travelled to enjoy the now available attractions of the former Eastern Bloc.
“We travel East for work and West for fun,” one neighbour explained.
And more widely Germans did not universally look to Berlin as their long lost capital returned.
It was reinstated as the national capital only by a slim vote in parliament. Germany is not one uniform country, it’s only been a nation since 1870 and Bavarians and others certainly don’t look to Berlin as their spiritual capital. The city is half way to Siberia in their view.
And the West at large was ambivalent about the new Germany too. Margaret Thatcher was one of many who welcomed the end of the communist bloc, but she was also one of many who opposed the reunification of Germany.
The war was still too close for many to feel unmixed joy at the prospect of a greater Germany being recreated.
Now it’s twenty years and the old east-west divisions have blurred but the “Wall in the Mind” is still real for those who grew up in a divided city.
Mark - Breakfast EP:
Hopefully you heard a rather wet but cheery Hardy Graupner this morning on NewsRadio Breakfast, talking to Glen from near the Brandenburg Gate as he watched the celebrations to mark the 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall coming down.
Hardy is a voice many ABC Newsradio listeners will be familiar with, via his reports for the numerous Deutsche Welle Radio programs we broadcast from our German partner.
He brought an interesting perspective to the Berlin Wall anniversary.
You see 20 years ago, on the night the Wall started to come down, Hardy was bunkered down at work in East Berlin at the hq of Radio Berlin International, the overseas mouthpiece of the former G-D-R.
The question there that night was not “how should we report this huge breaking story” of people crossing freely over the barrier that had divided their city for 30 years, but rather “should we report this story that the Anti-fascist Rampart has been breached at all?’
Hardy’s blog on this dilemma, life as an “Ossi” in the New Germany, and his first impressions of West Berlin is terrific: http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,4809726,00.html
It was also interesting to note that at the official ceremonies to mark the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Wall overnight, both Chancellor Angela Merkel and Berlin’s Mayor Klaus Wowereit pointed out that the night of November 9-10 is also the 71st anniversary of Kristallnacht — the so-called “night of broken glass” — the anti-Jewish pogrom by the Nazis in 1938 which saw at least 400 Jews murdered, thousands of Jewish homes, businesses and synagogues ransacked or destroyed, and thousands interned.
Marius talked a lot about the differences in demeanour and attitudes between East and West Berliners.
Another variation you do pick up if you spend any length of time in Germany or with Germans is the difference between “Wessis” and “Ossis” towards the nation’s Nazi past.
I got a stark illustration of that myself.
About 9 years ago I took a break from the ABC and worked for a time as a senior producer at Associated Press Television News in London.
It was a wonderful experience, working with in a large newsroom with young jounalists, collating video material from all around the globe, re-packaging and editing it and sending it out to just about every major tv network in the world.
One of our top producers and editors was Ute — a young German woman who’d migrated to Britain with her camerman husband.
She had an infectious smile and a wicked sense of humour.
Everyone seemed noticeably more cheerful when Ute was on-shift.
The other guys and I on the production desk knew we could get away with teasing Ute mercilessly, so we’d always resort to the lowest common denominator in the joke department - Fawlty Towers.
“Shhhh… Ute’s coming”, we’d say, “Now what ever you do, don’t mention the war!”
Ute took it all with terrific humour, and was quick with some withering put down about Brits and Aussies.
Until the day when she had the best come-back of all….and this time I could tell she wasn’t exactly joking.
“What war?” she said drily, “I’m from the East”.
Debbie Spillane - sport
Marat Safin is playing the final tournament of an extremely colourful tennis career this week at the Paris Masters and it was good to see him get through the first round this morning.
Larger than life personalities are in short supply in sport these days and that’s why Marat Safin will be sorely missed. I guess I knew that in theory before I went to the Shanghai Masters last month, but seeing the big fella first hand, really underlined it for me.
Never having had the opportunity to see him live I scurried across from Centre Court at the Qizhong Stadium to the Grandstand Court when I saw Safin had been taken to a third set in his second round match against Czech player, Tomas Berdych.
By the time I arrived Safin had suffered one of his typical implosions and was down 1-4 in the deciding set. But with the crowd desperately cheering him on he fought back to level it at 4-4. Even though it’s been some years since he was at the top of his game, Safin seemed to have more dedicated fans in Shanghai than any other player. Two or three girls were courtside on this occasion holding up a sign saying “Marry Us Marat”. They didn’t look old enough to remember the time in 2002 that he turned up for the Australian Open in Melbourne with not one supermodel style girlfriend in tow, but three.
I thought they were going to cry when Safin eventually lost to Berdych. After the match there was an on-court presentation from the tournament organisers to mark his farewell appearance in Asia.
There was a musical slideshow package shown on the big screen. As the PA blasted out “Wild Thing” we saw pics of Marat in action, smacking balls, smashing rackets, smooching women, and smirking with Boris Yeltsin. I couldn’t help noticing the photo with Yeltsin really seemed to amuse Marat as he stood there on court watching the tribute. Of course there were speeches. But what amazed me most was when the courtside announcer took a microphone into the crowd and invited a fan to speak on behalf of the spectators. Speaking in English the Chinese woman said she’d been turning up to watch Safin since his first appearance in China and that she was going to miss him.
Safin then spoke, thanking his Chinese fans, and saying that every time he’s arrived in China they’ve been at the airport to greet him and waiting for him outside his hotel. Then, with perfect Safinesque lack of logic he added with a grin: “Personally I would not do this for myself”. He then signed several dozen autographs as he made a slow exit from the court.
I felt extremely grateful to have been there for such a genuinely emotional moment. But I was even more grateful that I got back to the media centre in time for the Safin post match media conference. Marat really held court in that setting. Self-deprecating but forthright, he sure gave the media plenty to work with.
When asked why he refused to shake Berdych’s hand at the end of the match, the big Russian launched into a rant about the fact Berdych had responded to losing the first set by calling a medical timeout. This was nonsense Safin seethed. He said there was nothing wrong with Berdych who’d been moving around the court without any problem immediately before calling for treatment on a supposed leg injury, and then resumed immediately afterward without any restriction in his movement.
The cynical use of injury timeouts has really been a pox on tennis in recent years to my way of thinking as well and it was good to hear someone finally call players on what is essentially unsporting behaviour. And dear old Marat didn’t hesitate about putting as fine a point on it as possible.
His comment went something along the lines of:
“If you’re injured, get off the court. If you’re fit, shut the f*&% up and keep playing.”
Yes, he will be missed.
Looking at the schedule of play for tonight/ tomorrow morning it appears Safin’s next — perhaps final match — will be on either Wednesday night or Thursday morning against Juan Martin Del Potro. You’ll definitely hear all about it on NewsRadio brekkie Thursday morning. Our presenter Glen Bartholomew is also something of a fan, having experienced some Marat memories in his days covering the Australian Open.