We are one

“Thank you, Gorbi [Gorbatshov]” on the Berlin Wall, today 25 years ago

For as long as I can remember, seeing footage from when the Berlin Wall fell has given me goosebumps. I was born in the West, I had no family in the East, I grew up in a reunited Germany and I have never suffered from the divide. Still, there is something extremely grand about the Ninth of November (Fall of the Wall) and the Third of October (Formal Reunification) for me. As a German and as a historian.

My mother and grandparents have instilled an appreciation in me for being able to move between East and West freely. “It was absolutely unbelievable”, I remember them telling me. “We couldn’t imagine that it was really true”. And I, who has the blessing of being born late, got to travel to Dresden however and whenever I wanted to, I got to make several wonderful friends from the “East” without even thinking of that they were from somewhere that used to be a different country. We would not know each other if that Wall was still up.

This sign was installed after the German separation at the Main Square in Bremen and it still there today, stating “Remember the brethren bearing the fate of our separation!”

That’s why I celebrate the Third of October. Every year since, like what, ten years. This year marks the 25th Anniversary of the Reunification of Germany. It is all over the media, the TV channels have special shows, the magazines feature special reports, Frankfurt hosts a great central celebration. My friend Kristin, born and raised in the East, and I, born and raised in the West, also host a celebration. A grand unity party with our friends from all parts of Germany. Because we can – because we are the first generation of reunited Germans.

We are one! Since 25 years, hooray!

Meeting my unknown relative

Today is the day the Berlin Wall fell (and I probably will be go on about this all day, so be warned you who meet me today). It was the evening when Günther Schabowski told a journalist at a press conference that a new law permitting GDR citizens more freedom to travel would go into effect, “as far as I know immediately” – the magic words! Reunion, reunification, freedom! As you already know, I, as a historian, German and pathos-loving person, do not tire of this topic. Berlin celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Fall of the Wall with a Light Border, an art project which I find very nice. Lit-up balloons are placed out along the former lines of the wall, dividing Berlin once more to then be released into the sky on the 9th of November, Germany’s fateful day. (Many important German historic things happened on the 9th of November. The liberal movement was crushed, monarchy ended, Jews were persecuted, all on November 9th in different years. ) Take a look at the Light Border and if you happen to be in Berlin, go there and tell me how it was.

My unknown cousin twice removed, Zofia and I

My unknown cousin twice removed, Zofia and I

I had a personal reunion yesterday, too! My friend Zofia who I know from almost 5 years ago when I studied at Stockholm University had written to me that “I live with like your cousin now!” I was sure she meant she was living with a person who was very much like me so I replied that I thought that was great and I absolutely had to meet this person. Yesterday, I finally made it to their cozy apartment on Södermalm, still absolutely sure that I would now meet my doppelgänger. I never thought about that one usually says, “I met your twin/doppelgänger” and not your cousin.

When I came in and said hi to Dena, I already started wondering what Zofia thought was so similar about us. I mean, yes, we both have dark hair and she’s very nice, but she did not strike me as being mistakable for me. After a few minutes, Dena said, “Do you know what Zofia means? Do you even understand this?” I did not. Obviously.

“I am”, she then continued, “the cousin of four of your cousins”. I am not in close contact with my paternal cousins but I do know which aunts have four instead of, say, two children, so it was easy to make out. “You mean the ones that are three girls and one boy?” Dena nodded. I was tempted to use my new sign language skills and say, “Whaaaaat?!”

Everything fell into place of course: My cousins had told me they had family in Uppsala and I had always envied them for having Swedish family. One of my cousins had been there some years ago even, I remembered. Dena confirmed my accounts. She was the Swedish family! We shared four cousins! (We even looked it up and she is my cousin twice removed according to, ehm, the internet.)


My cousin (that I share with Dena) and me whe we were little.

My cousin and me whe we were little.

Zofia met Dena on Cuba and when they became Facebook friends, Dena must have recognized my name. “Your cousins talked a lot about you when we were little. They were proud of their cousin in Germany. They had a doll with a dress that had the letter H on it and kept telling me, ‘It’s H like our cousin Helen’s name H!” I imagine I even remember this doll.

Dena looked at my hands. “You have the same hands as your cousin”, she concluded, “long fingers, nicely shaped nails and large hands”. Imagine sitting in your Swedish friend’s kitchen hearing about your own family likeness! If you ever wondered if the world was small, this is one story to prove it.

A Nation divided

You already know that Reunificiation and all that jazz is my thing. You also know that I religiously follow the weekly newspaper Die ZEIT (when time allows). So now these two things have come together, not too surprising given the major topic that the Fall of the Wall on the media agenda. It is actually very interesting to see how different media in different parts of Germany chose to tackle the topic: the East German Broadcasting Organization MDR publishes all things Fall of the Wall under “25 Years of Freedom”, Google launched the hashtag Deutschland25 and Stern Magazine was full of ads with companies celebrating 1989.

The way Zeit Magazin has captured all these interestings things is something you should see – and it is even in English! Hallelujah! No more excuses to not go infotain yourself: A Nation Divided: East Germany’s legacy remains visible in statistics. Learn about where people are called Ronny, where in Germany people own most guns and – important for German learners! – where which words for stapler and roast chicken are used. (Spoiler alert: There are four different ones and three make me crack up.)

While I’m at it, I might as well add something personal to this Friday post, and yes, of course: The Work Week Song # 44! Since one co-worker has quit and two others are on vacation, this is the appropriate song for this week: