Joy and anger on Berlin's historic night: Adrian Bridge explains why there were no official celebrations to mark the fourth anniversary of the fall of the Wall

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The Independent Online
LIKE ALL Berliners who were here at the time, Gunter Kessler will never forget it. He heard the news at 10pm. He then called his girlfriend. An hour later they were both at Checkpoint Charlie, part of an incredulous crowd that had come to see if it was really true: the Berlin Wall was open.

'It was a wonder,' said Mr Kessler, an east Berliner old enough to remember the Wall going up in 1961 but young enough to celebrate its fall in style. 'When we finally crossed, hundreds of west Berliners were there to greet us with champagne. We laughed, cried and embraced all night. We did not return until dawn.'

Most Berliners, when they stop and relax for long enough to look back, will come out with similar recollections. No matter how critical they may be about what has happened since then, even the most hardened will melt at the mention of 9 November 1989. And with good reason: four years ago last night , Berlin made history. It was hardly the first time the city had done so, but unlike previous occasions the tale on that night was one of unadulterated happiness.

'It was a victory day, a day of hopes fulfilled,' said Rainer Hildebrandt, the head of the small museum at Checkpoint Charlie dedicated to the stories of all those who successfully escaped across the Wall, and those who died in the attempt. 'In the ruins of that wall lay the cement to bind and build a new Europe.'

Fine words, echoing the euphoria of that time. But although some bits of the Berlin Wall are, indeed, now on display in cities all over the world, most of it ended up serving a somewhat more prosaic function: as filler in the reconstruction of many of east Germany's appallingly pot- holed roads.

In Berlin itself, traces of the monstrous 96-mile long construction that divided the city for 28 years are today few and far between. Apart from a symbolic slab outside the Checkpoint Charlie museum, there are only two or three significant pieces left standing, and their long- term future is unclear. As with many chapters of their past, Berliners are uncomfortable about the Wall and would rather not be reminded of it. As one put it: 'What do we want memorials for when we have the memories of the victims?'

Perhaps not surprisingly, therefore, there were no formal celebrations last night to mark the fall of the Wall. In part, this was because 9 November marks a more sombre date in the German calendar: the 55th anniversary of the Kristallnacht Nazi pogrom against the Jews. In part, however, it stems from divided feelings about that extraordinary night four years ago.

While few seriously want the Wall back, many resent the disruption and discomfort its disappearance has caused to their lives. The initial joy has long since been diluted by feelings of anger, disappointment and even betrayal as Germans on both sides of the former divide discovered just how expensive and painful it was going to be getting back together again. And although the physical remains of the Wall may have all but gone, the mental scars - the so-called 'wall in the head' - look set to linger.

'After 45 years of living apart, our whole outlooks are quite different. Of course we cannot change that in two or three years,' said Klaus Haetzel, a spokesman for the Berlin Senate. 'Given the stresses and strains of unity, both sides have a tendency to idealise their own pasts.'

This tendency is particularly pronounced on the eastern side of the former divide, where people see themselves as the 'losers' of unification, swallowed up, thrown out of work and ordered about by arrogant, know-all, stinking rich Wessis (west Germans). Many Wessis, for their part, often still talk about the east as though it were an unpleasant, dangerous and foreign country peopled by former secret policemen, crooks and simpletons.

Pessimists talk of the eastern part of Germany becoming the equivalent of southern Italy, a permanently impoverished junior partner, with widespread poverty, unemployment and, finally, organised crime.

It is an attitude that appals Mr Hildebrandt, sighing as he looks over the photographs in his museum of the dancing on the Wall four years ago. 'We Germans are not thankful enough for what we got,' he says. 'We think we have problems now but they are nothing compared with those we had then.'

But there are optimists, too, who believe that the widely held prejudices will gradually disappear, particularly in Berlin, where people on both sides do, like it or not, come into contact. They point out that younger Berliners, whose outlook was not set fast under the shadow of the Wall, have fewer hang-ups about mixing with people from the other side.

They point, too, to the incredible amount of building work - of flats, offices, roads, sewers, new telecommunications lines - in the east. It can only be a matter of time before things level out: 10 or 20 years at the most, they say. The problem is what to do in the meantime. The city is restless: too busy building the future and forgetting the past to stop and enjoy the present. 'We all know where we want to go, but we just wish we were there already,' says Mr Haetzel.

Others in the city, famed for its schnauze, or wit, put the dilemma differently. 'Things were certainly no better before. But today they are even worse.'

(Photograph omitted)

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