Monday, 9 November 2009

9th November

Can anyone explain to my why Bon Jovi are commemorating the fall of the Berlin Wall, playing live at the Brandenburg Gate tonight? Is this what thousands of people took to the streets for?

For literature lovers, I have two alternative suggestions. The first is Berlin-based poet Alistair Noon's entertaining and thoughtful long essay, November Notes, in Litter magazine (full disclosure: I know him). Alistair remembers the bathos of trying to watch the news in a student hall of residency on 9 November 1989, then goes on to explain the whole of Berlin, how it has changed since then and all about the public transport system, telling us how for many years, "it was as if for both sides the other was a kind of South London into which one ventured, in public transport terms, at one's peril."

The second is a German book with a slightly less common perspective of the Wende: Jan Böttcher's Nachglühen (Afterglow - see my review). Set in a village on the border to West Germany, it too looks at what has changed since the Wall - or in this case the fence - came down. You can listen to a radio play of the novel on NDR Kultur for a week from Wednesday.

All this reminiscing reminds me of my own excitement over the 9th of November. At the time I had fled my suburban high school for a sixth-form college in another, more affluent suburb. As I recall I had high hopes of becoming instantly cool and joining some mythical café society by going there, which didn't happen. But there was great euphoria within our modest German department over the fall of the Wall, and our teacher showed us taped footage from German TV - Sat1 was available via satellite and cable at the time and was always very popular at parties as it was the only channel available in Britain that ran soft-porn, but of course only German teachers had it. The whole thing really messed up our curriculum though, because it suddenly required new lesson materials on a grand scale. But the teacher rose to the occasion rather well with reams of photocopied collages.

The fall of the Wall will forever be entangled in my memory with the fall of Margaret Thatcher. At some point between the two events, our college hung TVs from the ceilings in the corridors, broadcasting their own teletext messages. Presumably this was some kind of Media Studies project harnessing the very latest technological progress. Anyway, the buzz over the teletext message "Margaret Thatcher resigns" was similar, for me, to the reactions a little over a year earlier. Like the Berlin Wall, Thatcher seemed to have been there forever. We'd grown up with her, she represented the antithesis of freedom, and we all longed to tear her down. There had been rising discontent and although in hindsight the end was on the cards, nobody ever imagined it would happen.

Both occasions warranted a celebratory baked potato from the college canteen and much teenage enthusiasm. Perhaps I'll celebrate tonight with an old-school baked potato for tea. Teenage enthusiasm is off, however.

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