Fall Of The Berlin Wall: Let's Celebrate!
The 9th of November is one of the most significant dates in my life, as it is for many others. This year marks the 30th anniversary of The Fall Of The Berlin Wall.
I grew up in former East-Berlin and I still remember vividly living in the communist block and I am grateful for it.
There is something unexplainable about living in a country where everything is grey. Yet this greyness goes unnoticed since one does not know any different.
Where shelves are empty but for the most basics stuff like bread, potatoes, even sweets, sometimes of poor quality but always cheap.
Brandenburg Gate with The Berlin Wall
One could buy meat but no cat or dog food until much later. This so-called pet food, named Goldi, did not discriminate between cats and dogs and was so disgusting that Mimi, our cat, refused to go anywhere near it. My father pointed out that cats and dogs had a much better life in the East as they lived on a diet of fresh meat, offal and fish.
Scarce were fresh fruits and vegetables unless you knew someone who worked in this area, and certainly nothing out of season. It was exciting to eat tomatoes in the summer months. But then, this may not have been much different in Britain in the 70s and perhaps 80s.
The two pictures below are by Wolfram Venohr, Berlin Prenzlauer Berg, p. 44 and 45
Seenefelderstraße before the Fall of the Wall
Seenefelderstraße after the Fall of the Wall
Since there was not much to buy, one could save for luxury goods like a Trabant, the East-German car. The process of purchasing one went like this:
1) you ordered your car
2) you started saving
3) after about 13 years (this is true) you received a postcard saying that you can soon pay for and pick up your Trabant with a choice of three colours: grey (obviously), beige, or baby blue
4) on the day that you excitedly picked up your car you also ordered your next one, to be ready in another 13 years.
Trabant, two-stroke engine car
The problem of not finding a parking space was unheard of. From today's environmental perspective, an ideal situation, except for the Trabant's smoky exhaust fumes.
I went to ballet school without having to pay for education or ballet clothes. On the contrary, I received monthly financial support for going to ballet school.
We could not buy pointe shoes, there were no shops that sold them. We had to take the shoes that we were given to us by the school's clothes & costumes department or by dancers from the company.
We had two leotards and two pairs of tights.
Ballet students did not audition for companies as they do today. Instead, the national theatre directors attended the school exams and contracts were assigned. Students could give their three top preferences but in the end, if they wanted to dance, they had to accept the offer they received and were tied to remain a minimum of two years in the allocated company before they could try again.
I imagine my career would have started similar to as it did, with or without The Wall. I had joined the ballet of the State Opera Berlin aged 19. I like to think that I would have been promoted quite quickly. After all, there was very little competition. The only sources that provided dancers for every company in East Germany were the two ballet schools of the country.
On the other hand, my career might have been hindered because of my relatives that lived in the West, especially my French father who lived in France, a non-communist, "enemy" country.
I probably would have never been allowed to 'represent' the German Democratic Republic (GDR) on the rare occasion of international touring because of the increased danger of defecting.
I might have been sent to Moscow or Leningrad (St. Petersburg) to study to become a ballet teacher. I would have learned to teach strict Vaganova training and to speak fluent Russian, as my teachers did.
As long as I would have conformed to the State ideology, I may have had a very safe and comfortable, perhaps even an interesting life but it would have been very predictable and limited. A small world in terms of individuality and creativity, with few choices, and without being allowed to make my own decisions, for better or worse.
Life After The Fall Of The Wall
My generation is probably the one that benefited most from the collapse of the communist system. On the one hand, we remain very conscious of the unique life in East-Germany whilst on the other hand, we were at the right age to grab the opportunities and enjoy the freedom that became available to us.
Never, in my wildest dreams, could I have envisioned being able to visit my family in Paris or creating a life in London.
Though, many older people found it difficult to adjust to the new, capitalist world, without job security, loss of identity, and the communities that existed because when things are not available, people come together and make do.
Whilst people born only five years later than I remember the GDR just through tales and stories.
Beyond doubt, I am immensely grateful for the life-changing events in 1989. Therefore, I wish that people celebrate liberty, freedom of movement, the breaking down instead of building walls because we are all humans who want to thrive.