austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,
austin_dern
austin_dern

If I could find a souvenir, just to prove the world was here

I'm fairly sure I know where I was when I heard the Berlin Wall had fallen, at least in the metaphorical sense that East Germany was giving up on this whole ``keep people inside'' concept. If I sound unsure it's because I think I'm getting my memories of it mixed up with memories of hearing about Nelson Mandela was freed and South Africa was liberated without the revolution or terror I had feared was unavoidable, just a couple months later, in that strange season of the fall and winter of 1989-90. I'm really sure that either way I was in bed, getting the news as I woke up, because back in those days I left the news radio on all the time, reflecting some primordial fear that if I left the news off for a minute I might miss something important. This was one of the few times I actually did catch something important. The news radio hadn't tumbled onto the idea of declaring every slight variation in anything as Breaking News, with a prerecorded tune heavy on brass for the introduction and strings for the continuation, and I listened to it a lot more.

The time feels odd since it would have to have been at least early afternoon on a Friday when the news came through, and you'd think I would have been in school. But looking at the calendar I think it's plausible I would have been home, and so sleeping well into the afternoon, since it was that sweetest, shortest week of the school year --- the one with classes on Monday, then a day off for Election Day, then back to school Wednesday, then two days off for the state teachers' convention, and the only disappointing part of this is that we wouldn't get Veteran's Day off separately. Between all those days off November was the shortest month. I'd have been close to the floor, since I was a teenaged male and going through that ``putting the mattress directly on the floor'' thing that we seem to go through for no reason that can be articulated once one isn't a teenaged male any longer.

I remember the strange feeling of how one of the things I had always known and had always counted on existing was suddenly changed; finding out the news as I was going from sleep to wake was probably more fitting than could have been planned. The Cold War had been receding, certainly, and changing for years and it wasn't as scary as it had felt when I was younger still, but there were still some things that I couldn't imagine changing, and the division of Germany was one of them. It might change, particularly with the numbers of people who were rushing out over the season leading up to that, but that there might no longer be a separate East and West Germany was unimaginable. I didn't even have the real idea that nations could dissolve, not outside the aftermath of wars. I remember that feeling of nobody knowing just what it meant, or just how the world was changing, and in unpredictable but good ways. I'd been through big good changes before, but they were slow to develop and not obvious as they were happening, as with Gorbachev's Glastnost; or sudden things that were clearly historic but bad, as with the Chernobyl explosion or the Challenger accident, but ... big, shocking, certainly good? This was new. Maybe there's always an odd little selfish thought accompanying historic events: it happened that I was planning to visit West Germany the next summer, and I realized I'd be there in the last days of its existence as a separate nation, something that not long after I was there nobody could do again.

I wonder how it is someone could have lived through that winter of 1989/90 and not realize how sometimes the world does suddenly get a lot better.

Trivia: The legal status of postwar Germany remained unsettled between the four occupying powers and the German Federal Republic until the signature of a treaty in Versailles in October 1990; the Paris Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe in November 1990 formed the legal end of the Second World War. Source: 1945: The War That Never Ended, Gregor Dallas.

Currently Reading: Victorian Sensation: Or, the Spectacular, the Shocking, and the Scandalous in Nineteenth-Century Britain, Michael Diamond. On a more frivolous note all the descriptions of things which shocked Victorian sensibilities leaves me with a faint urge to create a story that combines all the elements possible, you know, murderous servants, adultery, gambling debts, Irish home rule fanatics, arsenic, railroad coach crimes, nuns trying to leave an oppressive convent, the Prince of Wales, bigamy, Chartists, German child-brides, Middle Eastern royalty, public hangings and letters of confession, a leering gorilla in a purple cape asking why he must kill Superman, the works. But then I realize that it's probably already been written, and it's so thoroughly unreadable and forgotten that even ratmmjess couldn't find it interesting enough to categorize.

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