An unforgettable day
November 9, 1989, was a magical moment, beginning with the awkward bureaucratic announcement in the early evening hours allowing immediate free travel, to the actual fall of the Berlin Wall that very same evening - and on through the night. Within just a few hours, the lives of the Germans and Europeans had changed.
History was in the making. Communist-ruled East Germany imploded under the pressure of the demonstrations and people fleeing the country. The fall of the wall was the end of East Germany, even if actual German unity wasn't achieved until about a year later. There was no longer a reason for the existence of an East Germany without walls and barbed wire that allowed its citizens to travel freely - except for its being anchored in the East Bloc and the Warsaw Pact.
The Soviet Union under reformer Mikhail Gorbachev, however, refrained from violence, and so did the communist leadership in East Berlin. A "Chinese solution" like the massacre on Beijing's Tiananmen Square was not an option.
On November 9, 1989, the freedom movement was not brutally smashed like it was in East Germany in 1953, in Hungary in 1956 and in Czechoslovakia in 1968. The fall of the wall completed the peaceful revolution of the East German people.
November 9 was a day - a night - of joy and of tears. It was emotional; it stirred up forgotten, blocked feelings, the desire for unity on both sides, the desire for freedom in the East. Something akin to intoxication overpowered Germans and Berliners, a happiness that left us all stunned. A day and a night of feelings beyond words that showed clearly that even 40 years after the division, the sense of belonging hadn't been broken - which actually also surprised most of us.
Former Chancellor Willy Brandt coined the phrase "now what belongs together, will grow together," a phrase of timeless beauty. It was a growing together that didn't target anyone, and in particular not Germany's neighbors. The peaceful revolution anchored Germany in the heart of Europe.
The East German uprising was aimed at the communist dictatorship and the pervasively regulatory "custodial state," as an author put it back then in a book banned but widely read in East Germany. It was a rebellion for an open country where people were no longer locked in - the reason why the call for the freedom of travel was so essential. Demands for less involvement by the state were not as strong. It's quite a case of historical irony that the combined political DNA of a united Germany includes a desire, in the east and the west, for "a strong, considerate state." The rebellion "against the state" was a protest against "them up there," but not a rebellion for an open society.
A united Germany
Since that November 9, Germany has become more protestant, more eastern and ideologically softer, rather than ideologically controversial; one could even say, more leftist. Two East Germans are at the helm: President Joachim Gauck and Chancellor Angela Merkel. In both cases, you can tell they were shaped by experiences in and with East Germany. Every now and then, it's a matter for criticism. But all the same, it's a political routine that doesn't really divide east and west.
Unity within Germany is farther along than many like to believe. And it all began with a collective feeling of joy on November 9, 1989.