Full Citation

  • Title Freed from an authoritarian kindergarten
  • Author Ash, Timothy Garton
  • Publication Title The Independent
  • Collection The Independent
  • Date Saturday,  Nov. 11, 1989
  • Issue Number 964
  • Page Number 32
  • Place of Publication London, England
  • Language English
  • Document Type Article
  • Publication Section News
  • Source Library The Independent
  • Copyright Statement © Independent Print Limited.
Timothy Garton Ash celebrates the end of East Germans' humiliation. Photographs: Brian Harris Freed from an authoritarian kindergarten NEWS T r Two young Germans climbed on to the Wall from West Berlin to celebrate the decision to allow free movement between the two halves of the city. East German guards turned the hoses on them in a spirit of fun, not aggression WHATEVER HAPPENS, we won't go on strike here, one of the border guards at Checkpoint Charlie told me. We were chatting about the Solidarity strikes in Po? land, back in 1981. At the time, his assur? ance seemed a little superfluous. But per? haps they will go on strike now? Living first in West then in East Berlin, I travelled back and forth through the checkpoint hundreds of times. When they got to know you, the guards were almost friendly. "You look pale," one said to me on a summer day. "You should spend more time in the sun, like me." Occasion? ally they would try a little agitprop. "Aren't you going to reverse the Nato dou? ble-track decision?" they joshed. Or: "Why are you boycotting the Moscow Olympics?" One snowy Christmas Eve my car's starter failed. Four or five guards gave me a push-start through Checkpoint Charlie, sending me east with a seasonal cheer. Gentle animal-lovers, they would never have dreamed of shooting the rab? bits that live in the no man's land along the Wall. In fact, they used to feed them. It was only people they shot. It is impossible to overstate the impact of the Wall on every aspect of life in East Germany. It runs through every heart. The sense of being penned in is ? dare we now say "was"? ? universal: the bitterness, the frustration, the humiliation. An East Ber? lin doctor wrote a book describing how people actually fell ill ? or committed sui? cide ? as a result of the Wall. He called it the Wall Sickness. I shall never forget being introduced to a six-year-old as a "visitor from England". He turned to his mother and asked: "Is that a place we can travel to?" Or watching > M U Wim Old people in East Berlin on the day when East Germany turned its back on the past and looked forward to a new future, symbolised by children on their way to school in the Prenzlauerberg district of the eastern half of the city with an East German friend a film con? taining some fairly anodyne footage of Ox? ford. He told me he felt bitterly sad watch? ing those pictures of Oxford, thinking "I shall never see it for myself." And now he can come. I must telephone to invite him. In fact I've just tried, but all the lines to East Germany are jammed. Three months ago the son of another dear friend escaped, like so many others, through the dismantled "iron curtain" be? tween Hungary and Austria. A brave, hon? est, idealistic student, he just could not bidhd abide the everyday unfreedom, the lies, the petty bu? reaucracy of a state that resembled nothing so much as an authoritarian kindergarten. He said simply: "I want li" Lik to Like so many other escapers, he came straight to West Berlin: to be as close as possible to the old Heimat, and above all to his family on the other side of the Wall. His little brother and sister said that, if they could no longer be close to him, they must at least see him from a dis? tance. There is a place in Pankow, on the eastern side, where you can climb on to some concrete blocks and look across the Wall to a railway platform in the West. Af? ter fixing a time by telephone, he came and stood on the platform, and his little brother and sister clambered on to the blocks. They waved. (What Charles Dick? ens would have made of that scene!) Bat now, it seems, there is no need for all that. They can meet and laugh and play again. Multiply that one story by several mil- lion, and you will begin to understand what this day means. Why has it happened? And why so quickly? After living in East Germany, I wrote a short book about the country. Pub? lished in the (first) heyday of Poland's Solidarity, in 1981, the book concluded that perhaps in 10 years the people of East Ger? many, too, might "take the revolutionary step from the solidarity of private disillu? sionment to the solidarity of a Solidarity. But today, at the beginning of the nineteen ;s, that seems as likely as the demo? s demo lition of the Wall." Well, it has taken just eight years. It needed Gorbachev ? both his exam? ple and the prom? ise that he would not use his tanks to crush movements idd The universal sense of being penned in ... everyday unfreedom, lies, petty bureaucracy of East European emancipation. It needed the Polish example and the Hungarian ex? ample ? indeed the Hungarian disman? tling of the iron curtain was the first spark. It took a lot. But now they have done it. The ordinary people of East Germany have found their voice, their courage, and their solidarity. We must be absolutely clear about this. It is not Egon Krenz who has opened the Berlin Wall. It is the people of East Ger? many. It was their peaceful, restrained yet massive and seemingly irresistible protest that compelled Mr Krenz to take this step. Of course it did not happen the same as in Poland: no strikes, only demonstrations after working hours! But it was solidarity nonetheless. Why did protest grow with such lightning speed? Historians will have to look for detailed answers. But I offer one preliminary hypothesis. Nowhere in Eastern Europe are people better informed ? watching West Ger? man television nightly, receiving thou? sands of West German visitors, and, in re? cent years, being allowed to travel a little more freely themselves. Nowhere has the private disillusionment been more exten? sive or articulate ? even among Commu? nist Party members. So when people at last took to the streets, spontaneously, to? gether, they instantly discovered that they thought the same way, and wanted the same things. Whereas in Poland and Hun? gary, and even more in the Soviet Union, there was a relatively long, painful learn? ing process, here most of the learning had been done already ? in private. "When the Brandenburg Gate is open, the German Question will be closed," said Federal President Richard von Weizsacker. Now the Brandenburg Gate is, in effect, open. But the German Ques? tion is very far from closed. There are enormous difficulties ahead. Despite this courageous move, it is not at all clear that the political transition inside East Ger? many can be pushed though fast enough, and yet still peacefully. The impact of hun? dreds of thousands more East Germans arriving in West Germany is also incalcu? lable. And what about the EC? And what about West Germany's position in Nato? No, with the opening of the Brandenburg Gate, the German Question has only be? gun to be really open. So tomorrow we shall have worries enough about the reunification of friend and friend, brother and sister, mother and child. Ajh'ift' during the 1948-9 IUL N Spandau Forest Crossing Points irport Unter den Linden Brandenburg Hamburg Prison Crossing Points Grunewald Forest , Checkpoint Charlie Tempelhof Airport -Crossing Point EAST GERMANY Hanover Frankfurt How the Wall surrounds West Berlin, comprising the French, British and US occupation sectors