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scan0001I am personally fascinated by Berlin, and by the Wall which I saw in 1986 - I took pictures, which must be in a box somewhere, of the Brandenburg Gate both from the same position as the Holzapfel family in the extract to the right and from the other side. This book, produced by the Federal Foundation for the Reassessment of the SED Dictatorship (ie the East German regime), tells very simply five stories of people affected by the Wall - the teenage student who flees west as it is being built in order to complete her exams; the nurse at the hospital beside the Wall treating casualties (and sometimes unable to); the government official who zooms across to freedom on a rainy night with his family; the amateur photographer who gets into trouble because of his fascination with the Wall; and another teenager who gets an unexpected 18th birthday present on 9 November 1989. All, we are told, are based as closely as possible on real stories (the contemporary newspaper article about the Holzapfel family's escape is reproduced).

The relativist in me is a little troubled by the one-sided presentation of the historical narrative. I guess that for someone my age or older, it's uncomfortably reminiscent of the hard-line Cold War rhetoric of the hawks of both sides, a division which was crystallised in Berlin. Also, my own personal experience is that one can usually resolve conflicts more effectively by trying to listen to and comprehend both sides; that was true in Northern Ireland, and in the conflicts I have worked on professionally.

But I suspect I am wrong to feel that. The East German dictatorship started life as a puppet regime, imposed by external force, and it maintained order for four decades by imprisoning its people in its own borders, before it collapsed almost accidentally; there was no residual conflict to resolve, just complete defeat. There are limits to the value of trying to understand the other fella's point of view, and this is probably one of those cases. I wasn't there myself, apart from a couple of hours one June day in 1986, and books like this can give one a much better feeling of what it was like to be there at the time; and even more, what it felt like to get away.

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parrot_knight
Mar. 16th, 2013 12:46 pm (UTC)
Didn't Charles Haughey or another prominent Irish politician compare Northern Ireland to East Germany in 1989 or 1990? It rings a bell for provoking understandable Unionist outrage...
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