First Posted 9th November, 2009
On November 9th, 1989, at a haphazard press conference, the Deutsche Demokratische Republik announced the revocation of the strict border controls that existed between between the nations of Germany, and the cities of Berlin.
That night, the Grentztruppen forces manning the checkpoints along the Berlin Wall* were swamped by hundreds of thousands of Eastern German citizens, demanding passage to the West. Like the superbly-trained Warsaw Pact troops they were, they immediately referred to their superiors for orders - but unsurprisingly, no senior NVA commander wanted to be the man to authorise the shooting of unarmed countrymen, women and children. The checkpoints were thrown open, and the Iron Curtain was breached for the first time in forty-five years.
That night, East met West in an ecstatically celebratory atmosphere. Within a few months, the Wall - the antifaschistischer Schutzwall that represented the edge of the Western World, and the start of the East - was in ruins. Within the year, Germany was reunified and the DDR was in ruins. Within two years, the USSR imploded, and half a century of suspicious co-existence and the spectre of nuclear annihilation was banished. The face of Europe was remade, the hands of the Doomsday Clock were pushed back seven minutes and freedom flowed like a flood across the former republics.
I've been thinking for most of the day what event within my lifetime could possibly compare to such an auspicious occasion. Indeed, there are probably not too many at Leeds Trinity who recall watching with the world as the wall came down - the staff, and a handful of mature students; myself included, who vaguely recalls, on a tiny, grainy screen a mob of very happy people standing on a wall that I equated, in my five-year old mind, with the sea defences of my home town!
I've not progressed too far from that confused young boy. One tries to think of the definitive events of my own, rather brief life, and came up with few equivalents. The 1992 Maastricht Treaty, 1998 Good Friday Agreement, the 2001 Attack on the WTC, the 2007 Attacks on London Transport, hell...to me, the transition from Humberside to East Yorkshire, the county where I grew up, in 1996 was highly confusing to a young man just starting senior school.
But can these events arguably have had the same impact on the world? I remember recoiling, mentally and physically, from the events of September 11th - but how has it affected a nation, a world already enmeshed in the struggle against terrorism? England had endured a legacy of senseless attacks from the 'freedom fighters' of Ireland, and in its way that made the bureacratic, concession-laden 1998 Agreement of little public impact. The same can be said of Major's limp into the EEC in 1992, and a world inured to violence has already recovered from the July 2007 attacks on London.
I wonder, with the demise of the super-power and the dismissal of mass extinction at the hands of nuclear war, if we have become a world reduced to regional, theological, economical, tribal squabbling with no comprehension of worldwide events. The ratification of the Lisbon Treaty has barely emerged from the pages of the broadsheets, where it exists more as a stick to beat Government or Opposition - and I wonder what we will read on December 1st, 2009.
Returning to the present, I was looking forward to catching some coverage of the Twentieth Anniversary celebrations on television tonight. I grew up reading le Carré and Deighton, Forsyth and Clancy, and have been fascinated with this front-line of the Cold War for years. Unfortunately, it seems the controllers at the BBC, ITV, Channel's Four and Five, Sky, etc., have different ideas and I can find nothing showcasing that definitive night, twenty years ago.
I will turn, instead, to the Guardian's website, and scour their aggregation of media to feed my interest. Abstractedly, I think of how we've been discussing how people pursue their needs through modern journalism, and how convinced I was that I was satisfied with the rustling, ungovernable size of a broadsheet. Now, I intend to sample a newspaper's website and its multi-platform reporting to appreciate an event.
It's interesting to note how the media has rapidly evolved, and as a result, how my opinion on it has changed accordingly. It seems we can find every angle and perspective on an issue...
It just seems like there are no more serious issues to consider.
* - And the Inner German Border, but the demarcation line had less PR appeal than its more photogenic urban cousin!