Memories of the fall of the Berlin Wall
The 15th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall this week has brought back many memories for me. I had lived in Berlin in 1986 and 1987, and in that extraordinary year of 1989 was missing it hugely. I was in London, in debt and in love with my fleeting memories of a girl who had lived in a grey flat in that deeply atmospheric and rather crumbling West Berlin inner suburb of Kreuzberg.
My father shouted the unbelievable news up the stairs, and I ran down to watch the scenes on television. Within 24 hours I was on a train from the depths of provincial England, heading for Dover, across the Channel and to Berlin.
A veil had lifted - the East German guards in the train smiled as we neared Berlin through the famous "transit corridor" that linked it to West Germany and the passengers cheekily laughed with them. Berlin had changed for ever overnight, in one of the most deliciously liberating ways imaginable. In the coming days all my Berlin friends began to dream about the wall in weird and wonderful ways. I too would suddenly wake up in the night shouting "Mauer" - the German for wall - and then go quietly back to sleep.
Amid all this euphoric upheaval, I realised something that made me ashamed. I had lived in West Berlin, those two years before, and like so many people there, I had not only accepted the wall, but had also found it exciting, part of the city's charm, caring amazing little about what it would be like to live on the other side. Beyond the occasional day trips - I had felt a peculiar lack of curiosity about the real lives of the millions living under communism. How was it possible, that I'd been living on the island that was West Berlin surrounded on all sides by the East - but had not really cared?
This struck home even more when, a year later, I moved to Prague, and gradually came to know and love Czechoslovakia. This country too had previously been just a grey, slightly exotic blur on the other side of the wall. Like most people in Western Europe, I'd just quietly accepted the stereotypes about the unappealing and slightly menacing world behind the Iron Curtain.
I should add at the end that Bernard and I made a rather bad job of the water-heater. When I next saw my parents a couple of months later, they told me that we'd mixed up the pipes and it had been weeks before they'd managed to stop scalding water coming out from all the cold taps. Obviously my mind had been on other things. But I must say that thanks to that day in November 1989, I still feel a deep attachment to that particular water-heater.