Twenty years ago, the wall formerly separating Berlin from Germany fell
Time Out Dubai staff
During the summer of 1961, rumours spread that the German Democratic Republic [GDR] intended to close off West Berlin from East Germany with a barrier. Emigration had reached a high point, with 1,500 people fleeing from the East to the West each day.
In a finely planned operation on August 13, West Berlin was sealed off in just 24 hours. Anyone trying to flee risked being shot; in the 28 years during which the 160km wall stood, nearly 80 people died trying to escape to the West. The border became known as part of the Iron Curtain between Western Europe and the Eastern Bloc.
By 1989, East Germany was no longer able to withstand the pressure of a population fed up with Communism and closed borders. During the summer, thousands fled the city and country via Hungary, which had opened its borders to the West. GDR’s new leader, Egon Krenz, decided to allow East Germans the freedom to travel. On November 9 1989, the Berlin Wall was opened, and thousands of East Berliners raced through the Brandenburg Gate, marking the end of East Germany. The unification of Berlin and Germany had begun.
Management consultant Dubai resident for three and a half years.
Do you remember where you were when the Wall fell? I was sitting in front of the TV with my dad and my brother watching the press conference [in which Günter Schabowski, the GDR Party Secretary for Propaganda, announced that East Berliners would be able to cross the border ‘effective immediately, without delay’]. My mum was in Berlin to post a draft for a new constitution for a democratic, free and liberal GDR (East Germany) to the East German Ministry for Internal Affairs. As we were originally from East Germany, the re-unification felt like a bigger event for us than for West Germans because it had more impact on our daily lives. Just one day after the Wall came down, my family and I took the chance to go to Bavaria, the bordering state to Thuringia, where I come from.
How do you think Berlin has changed since then? You can see the change everywhere along the former border. Walking through the Brandenburg Gate still sends shivers down my spine because it is still such a symbol of freedom. Streets, squares and parks that used to be divided in two by the former border are now one. Until 1989 Berlin was a political symbol. Today I see Berlin as a fresh and dynamic metropolis, although somehow underestimated. But regardless if they’re from East or West, Berliners are known to be relaxed, self-confident and proud of their city – in the past and today.
HR manager Dubai resident for four and a half years.
Do you remember where you were when the Wall fell? I was in Hamburg, working at The Vier Jahreszeiten Hotel. I celebrated with a bottle of sparkling wine on the street with some of my colleagues and hundreds of other people who couldn’t believe it had happened.
How do you think Berlin has changed since then? I lived there for two years after the fall. I got lost so often in East Berlin. Once, I drove my Mini direct through the Brandenburger Tor [Brandenburg Gate], and I was lost for hours. Police stopped me, but I did not have to pay anything as they believed I was just lost. Those times are over now.
What will you do to commemorate the anniversary? I’ll have a beer for Germany and a shisha for the Emirates. And I’ll also watch some German TV – it will be interesting to see what’s happening at home.
Language school director Dubai resident for two years.
Do you remember where you were when the Wall fell? I had just passed my final exams at school and returned from Paris after staying there for the past three months. On November 9 1989, I stayed with friends in the countryside. We were overwhelmed about what was going on and watched TV the whole day long.
Do you have many German friends here? My circle of friends is half German, half non-German. Sometimes it is nice to talk to someone in your own language and to people who share the same cultural background. A shared history has a big impact on one’s personality, I guess.
Party time in Dubai
Throughout November, the Goethe-Institut German Language Center in Dubai will hold movie nights screening German-language films with English subtitles (The Lives of Others on November 5; Goodbye Lenin on November 8). On November 17, there will be a book reading with English and Arabic translations and question-and-answer session with German author Barbara Bollwahn. From November 8-26, Stefan Koppelkamm’s exhibition will feature photos that contrast images of areas in East Germany in 1990 with images of the same places taken up to 12 years later. See www.goethe.de/gulfregion for details.