Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

9 November 1989

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 9th November, 2019

CF50D9B1-9624-4099-AA55-EFC2AE403324On the 9th of November, 30 years ago, I had done my usual daily shift for BBC World Service at Bush House and had settled down to watch the TV news at home when the first extraordinary images came through of people climbing onto the Berlin Wall and passing through it. For those too young to know what the Cold War was like, it is hard to convey the magnitude of what was happening before our eyes. For four decades, the possibility of conflict — indeed, nuclear conflict — with the Soviet Union and its satellites had been a permanent reality, despite efforts at detente (not least by the West Germans). The Berlin Wall itself was not just symbolic but a grim and dangerous barrier between East and West. Some reckless, brave souls had been killed trying to get through it over the years, while millions of others were separated from family and friends. As a Westerner — and a journalist to boot — it was easy for me to visit East Berlin, usually on day trips via Friedrichstrasse, with an obligation to return to West Berlin by midnight — and sometimes I had longer stays in the Communist half of the city, which really was like another world. Most of Berlin’s historic centre was in the eastern sector; I went to the opera house once, to see the ballet Gisele, during which three Soviet dignitaries sat by my side studiously reading Pravda. I often visited the small Quaker group in the East, and was dismayed when one dear Friend meeting me outside the Friedrichstrasse station one morning burst into tears when I handed over a bunch of white Lily of the Valley, because she had not seen any for many years. I was in East Berlin again in the early autumn of 1989, when I visited a friend who lived on Leninallee. Hungary had already opened its border with Austria, but my friend lamented, “It could never happen here!” But it did, only weeks later, catching almost everyone by surprise. We should never lose our sense of wonder at that, nor sacrifice the benefits of Europe Reunited.

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