My personal memories of November 9, 1989, are hazy, but my family’s account of the day will forever be etched in my mind. My aunt and uncle still talk about their visit to the Deutsches Theater on this historic evening, where they watched a performance of Nathan the Wise. They remember how the play contained allusions to the political situation at that time. During the intermission, there was a lot of whispering among those present. My aunt casually overheard two women talking about the alleged opening of the Wall. She told my uncle, who didn’t believe it. After the intermission, some of the previously occupied seats in the theater were empty. By the final curtain call, even some members of the ensemble were missing. When my aunt and uncle arrived home in Hohen Neuendorf, they switched on the television. The news summary at 10:40 p.m. confirmed the rumors. My uncle immediately set off with some friends on foot and via overground train to Bornholmer Strasse to see for himself. My aunt stayed with my cousins, fearful that the border may close again.
During the day, I had been celebrating my fourth birthday with my parents, my brother – who is four years older – and some friends from kindergarten. At the time of the historic press conference, I was already tucked up in bed in our four-room apartment in a typical GDR Plattenbau building in the Berlin district of Hellersdorf. My mother remembers catching snippets on the news about the border opening while she was cleaning the apartment, but she didn’t believe it. The next morning, when she turned on the radio, she heard accounts of people dancing on the Wall. Nevertheless, she still took me to kindergarten as usual and then went to work. From her desk, she looked out onto the street and could see what seemed like an infinite number of people queueing at the registration office. This was when she realized the scale of the event.
At the beginning of December 1989, my family and I walked over into West Berlin for the very first time at the Oberbaumbrücke crossing. During the 1989 Christmas holidays, we visited the Brandenburger Tor with my grandparents and saw the famous “wallpeckers” at work.
November 9 will always be a special day for me
While memories of my fourth birthday are mainly shaped by the stories I’ve heard, I can clearly remember November 9, 2003. For my 18th birthday, my family surprised me with a trip to Prague. I found it quite moving to stand at the Prague Embassy, 14 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and to think about the events of the fall of 1989.
Today, 30 years after 1989, I still celebrate my birthday in Berlin on November 9 – but now with friends from the East and the West. I never could have guessed on my fourth birthday that I would end up working at an international research center. Without the peaceful revolution, I would not have been able to see many corners of the world, or to gather valuable professional experiences at, for example, the German Bundestag, the Federal Ministry of Health, the Capital Cultural Fund, or the Goethe-Institut in Sydney.
I typed these memories for the “My November 9th” series quite naturally on my laptop as I enjoyed a completely border-free train journey back to Berlin, after a three-day business trip that took me to Bonn (DZNE) and Heidelberg (DKFZ).