Life after the Wall

Al Jazeera's David Chater recalls Berlin before - and after - fall of Communism.

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    The destruction on the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989 was a symbol for the fall
    of the Iron Curtain and collapse of Communism in the Eastern Bloc [EPA]

    It was my first trip as a reporter across the 'Iron Curtain', a term first popularised by Winston Churchill, the late British prime minister, to describe the ideological divide between East and West Europe.

    A chance to sample life in the German Democratic Republic and savour the Checkpoint Charlie stamp in my passport in what later turned out to be the country's final days under communism.

    The swell of protests in the city of Leipzig were hitting the international headlines but nobody had yet guessed what lay ahead.

    Special report

    I was told to work undercover and keep out of the way of the Stasi, the country's notorious and all-pervasive secret police.

    I must have stuck-out like a sore thumb but they obviously had other things on their collective minds. As the protesters gathered in Karl Marx Platz, so did the riot police.

    Ordinary families

    But this was not a crowd of radicals - just ordinary families trying to light their candles in the pouring rain.

    They set off on the march through the sodden streets with a quiet determination bearing banners reading, "We are the people".

    They have since been dubbed the heroes and heroines of the Quiet Revolution and no one should doubt the courage it took to throw off the shackles of communism.

    In June that year a similar attempt in Beijing ended in the Tiananmen Square massacre. But the guns remained silent in Leipzig.

    The communist government in East Berlin proved impotent as the march toward freedom gathered momentum; a march which would lead to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the re-unification of Germany in what has been called a year of miracles.

    'Had to do something'

    Returning to the city 20 years later I met again the people I had spoken to during that turbulent time, the activists and organisers who helped change the course of history.

    Edgar Dusdall is now a pastor with seven children. A devout Christian who can never forget being ridiculed by a communist teacher for his belief in God in front of his class when he was only eight years old.

    He will also never forget what it felt like to take to the streets of Leipzig back in 1989: "We all knew the risks. But we'd come to a point where we didn't have an alternative.

    "Our lives in East Germany at that time had become unbearable. We had to do something."

    'Live freely'

    Roland Quester is now on the town council of Leipzig. He told me in some ways the Wall still exists both mentally and economically in the unified Germany. But the freedom its fall brought to the people of this city cannot be devalued

    "I can live freely. I can do whatever I want under unification.

    "It's as though you've grown taller. I can breathe deeply and work on issues we weren't allowed to 20 years ago.

    "I have access to all kinds of information. I can now express myself in a way that would have had me thrown in prison before."

    Being thrown into prison was exactly what I had feared when I first came to Leipzig.

    Instead, I was to share in that euphoric moment when the Berlin Wall came down.

    It was not to prove the "end of history" as some academics suggested.

    The walls still stand elsewhere - monuments to suffering and the denial of basic freedoms to the people pinned behind them.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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