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It was more than a Wall

Next week sees the 20th anniversary of the downfall of the Berlin Wall. It's more than ironic that 9th November is not only the anniversary of the Wall coming down but also the 61st anniversary of Germany's infamous Kristalnacht.

Mary Dejevsky, writing an op-ed piece "Remember the Berlin Wall – and not only how it fell" in The Independent, rightly reflects on that was more than just the Wall coming down:

"This time next week Berlin will be suffering a hangover second only to the one that followed the collapse of the Wall 20 years ago. Even though a whole generation has now grown up across Europe with no first-hand memory of the dismembered city and the divided country that surrounded it, the scenes from 9 November, 1989, are lived and relived as the defining images of the end of the Cold War.

It is not just that this was one of the first events to be broadcast worldwide, in the earliest days of live 24-hour television, from anywhere – although it was. It was the sheer, undiluted ecstasy of the occasion. The Berlin Wall was demolished euphorically, spontaneously, almost by accident. A barrier that had taken years to build was torn down in hours with pick-axes brought from home, and bare hands. And the spell was broken that had kept 17 million Germans, and much of the eastern part of Europe, in thrall for almost half a century.

While there is no risk that the memory of this euphoric night will soon fade – especially not while the successive anniversaries of 1989 are still celebrated – the memory of the strange and cruel years that preceded it is vanishing all too fast. Not just in Germany, east and west, but right across what used to be called the Eastern bloc, the experience of repression and occupation is being consigned to an artistic world of fiction and film that is becoming unreal even to those who endured it.

Three years ago, the German film The Lives of Others came close to capturing the claustrophobia and paranoia of those years, while drawing criticism for the narrowness of the social milieu it depicted. A year later, the Romanian film 4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days drew in harrowing detail a small picture of Ceausescu's Romania, through the experience of a student seeking a banned abortion. And last year Andrzej Wajda's epic, Katyn, exposed what happens when a country is forced by the dominating power to live a lie, and how that lie determines everything."

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