Berlin, when the wall fell?
November 27, 2012 1:35 PM   Subscribe

What was it like to be in Berlin when the Wall came down in 1989?

I'm interested in learning about the events which took place leading up to the fall of the Berlin Wall, and especially, what was the experience of ordinary (West and East) Germans who lived through that time. I'd be grateful for recommendations of non-fiction books, preferably more along the lines of popular history rather than weighty academic volumes. Are there any movies which capture the mood of the time? I'd also be fascinated to hear any eyewitness accounts from Mefites!
posted by meronym to Society & Culture (8 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
You could probably find this pretty easily through a search, but I had this open in the tab right next to Ask Metafilter when reading your question, having just read it myself, so I feel like I had to share it -- because it freaked me out a little.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 1:43 PM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Coincidentally, I've just been talking this evening with one of my sporting buddies about this very experience.

My friend grew up in West Berlin and was at school in the late eighties. When the wall came down, nobody who heard the news believed the first report and only looked to see what was going on when more people corroborated the story. Soon after that her mother and aunt found a gap in the wall and crossed over freely from West to East for the first time. They turned back after a few hundred yards when they remembered they weren't carrying any identification papers. The next day, my buddy and her school friends went and collected bits of the wall. Pretty soon, everyone had attics and cellars full of bits of wall which nobody could quite bear to get rid of. She also told me about another aunt from the East, who was never allowed to know when she and her siblings were watching Western television.

For more information, try watching Goodbye Lenin, a very entertaining movie about a young man and his mother dealing with the events and their aftermath.
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth at 2:11 PM on November 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

MCMikeNamara's link had me crying out loud.
I was invited to a party in Kreutzberg for 11/09/1989. I was working in Berlin, but pendling there. At that day, I was too lazy to go, or rather worn out: a pendler's life is hard on the family, and I had a lot of agony working in Berlin. We watched it all on our B/W television and were taunted a few days later, when our friends and partners were finally sober. (Kreuzberg is right next to the wall).
I was there 10-14 days later, and then our business opened up big, because there was so much reconstruction work in the former east. We spent a lot of time just cruising around the east part.

In retrospect, I do find it strange that this huge political event had so little impact. For me, it was transformatory. (is that a word?)
I saw the basic evils of the former system, and I saw the immense challenges of the change. Maybe our denial of that process is what has left us without tools in the aftermath: the changes in Russia and Russian dependancies, the changes in the Middle East and North Africa. I definitely fell less surprised with events than do friends with no central European experience.

I could write a book on my experience during that first year. There is so much to say, and it would be immensely interesting to interview my friends of that era (some of whom are dead). But it is like a secret.
posted by mumimor at 2:14 PM on November 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

If you're willing to read Google-translated articles, most of the German media had a zillion retrospectives in 2009. The thing to search for is "20 Jahre Mauerfall".

Around then, Spiegel had a fairly interesting article about the actual mechanics of the fall of the Berlin Wall, in the sense of what decisions were taken and who was where, doing what. It was a cover story, which either makes it more or less likely to have appeared on their English website (they sometimes don't make stuff available, even in translation, to try and get people to buy the magazine). I can't find it at the moment.

I don't know if this is quite the sort of film you're looking for, but Coming Out had its premiere on the 9th of November 1989. (A lot of those aforementioned retrospectives were written by journalists who emerged from the cinema and were wondering why the hell the trains were so crowded.) It is, however, a product of 1989 East Berlin.

Mary Fulbrook has written a social history of East Germany, which I found surprisingly readable. It covers the entire history of the GDR, though.

Oh, and if that's an intentional Darmok reference in the title, that's awesome.
posted by hoyland at 2:48 PM on November 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

posted by MrMoonPie at 2:57 PM on November 27, 2012

Was tun wenn's brennt? (What to do in case of fire?--I think available on Netflix) is sort of in the ballpark, too. However, it's fundamentally about late-80s radicals 20 years later.

It looks like the Spiegel from the next(?) week is online in its entirety, but it's in German, of course. Here is the article I was looking for earlier, about the mechanics of the fall of the Wall, though I still can't find it in English.
posted by hoyland at 7:08 PM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

This isn't at all academic, but consider seeking out Stasiland by Anna Funder--it's part memoir about writing the book, and part interviews with East Germans. It focuses on people who either were resistors or people who worked for the Stasi, but there's still a lot of fascinating information about life in that era.
posted by MeghanC at 6:14 AM on November 28, 2012

Not exactly about the actual wall in Berlin, but about the fall of the wall in general. Of course I remember the day very well, being German and all. I remember who told me and my disbelief, despite the clear signs in the weeks and months before Nov. 9 1989. The following Saturday I went to the border station on the highway from Hamburg to Berlin. Normally a boring place in the middle of nowhere. This day all was different. There were hundreds of people who had parked their cars on the West side of the border crossing and who were allowed by the West German Border Police to walk up to the actual white line in the no-mans land. Were we told not to cross it.

We stood there and welcomed the little plastic cars coming from the East entering the West for the first time. Some drivers just stared right ahead, slowly crossed the line and drove on. Others stopped and got out, walking over the white line deliberately and being welcomed enthusiastically by the crowd. Some brought a bottle of sparkling wine along and popped it right there. We were all very cheerful and spent a few hours there.

In all major cities the post offices were open to hand out a welcome bonus of I believe 100 German Mark to every person entering from the East. You could pick the brothers and sisters from the East by their cars and their clothing, for a while at least. It was all very, very exciting. I had been to the border fence before, I heard the dogs and knew about the mines and the self-shooting devices installed on the "Imperialistic protection wall". Remember, the fence was there to protect the people in the East from the folks in the West, who were oh so envious about the wonderful system in the East. At least this is what the government tried telling the folks in the East. I had been to Berlin and had walked up a viewing platform, looking over the wall into the East. And then, the very next day, I crossed into East Berlin - legally, of course, and went to the exact same spot on the other side of the Wall. It was the strangest feeling I have ever experienced - the thought that I could not just walk towards the viewing platform in the West, not only because of the bloody wall, but also because I would be shot at way before I could reach the wall. This was very hard to truly comprehend. I was elated when I crossed back into the West.

Now this all seems to be so far away and from a different life. But it is not, and it was a revolution in its own way without people firing shots. I still get emotional when I think about the day at the highway border crossing. I wish I would have brought a camera along, this was the time before youtube and iPhones.
posted by nostrada at 9:18 AM on November 28, 2012

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