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Berlin Wall was breached in a day, but the barriers between people stood for longer


East German border policemen, right, refusing to shake hands with a Berliner who stretches out his hand over the border fence at the eastern site nearby Checkpoint Charlie border crossing point in 1989

East German border policemen, right, refusing to shake hands with a Berliner who stretches out his hand over the border fence at the eastern site nearby Checkpoint Charlie border crossing point in 1989

East German border policemen, right, refusing to shake hands with a Berliner who stretches out his hand over the border fence at the eastern site nearby Checkpoint Charlie border crossing point in 1989

When I was watching the 25-year celebrations of the fall of the Berlin Wall at the Brandenburg Gate last night, I wished so much I could have been there. My favourite DJ of all time - Paul Kalkbrenner - was playing to a delighted, if freezing-cold, crowd. There were fireworks, emotions and - most beautifully of all - the launch of 8,000 balloons into the night sky. For several days, these made up a light installation along where the Wall once stood.

German chancellor Angela Merkel said that the fall of the wall had shown the world that dreams could come true.

As a half-German person, November 9 1989 is etched in my brain, especially as no one knew what was going on until around 9pm that night. Public announcements had been made stating that Eastern German citizens could cross over to the west with a passport. But it sounded too good to be true, so initially only a few gathered on either side. In the West, people stood with wine and cups in festive anticipation of seeing their long-lost countrymen and women, while in the east there was early confusion.

"If I go in, can I come back?" one Easterner asked on German TV. "I want to go over and have a look, but I live here. All my things are here." At first, East German police seemed reticent about opening the gates, rather letting people in one by one. Once inside they piled through what was referred to as the death strip and into freedom with tears streaming down their faces. By 11.30pm tens became hundreds and finally thousands.

When they opened the gates at Checkpoint Charlie joyous people drove in Wartburg and Trabant cars, beeping their horns as onlookers popped open champagne bottles. It was so moving and there wasn't a dry eye in the house. Even seasoned TV commentator John Brokaw from NBC was lost for words when people started scaling the Berlin Wall for the first time. It seems so inevitable now that Germany would be one country, but before the fall, we were so different. In the East, school children were force-fed socialist theory and compelled to partake in sports. "We weren't so much encouraged at school. Although I got a lot out of it, I know I was totally being used," said East German track and field Olympic Gold medallist Heike Drechsler said in a recent interview.

Another East German sports star said of her time on the East German Olympic team that "when we went to competitions abroad they took our passports, they cut off all the phone lines and they watched us night and day".

Its funny to think that in the Seoul Olympics in 1988 where the GDR came second and West Germany came fifth we were still arch enemies, while just four years later in Barcelona we competed as one. Previously we had grossly mistrusted their sporting prowess and accusations of doping were rife, but these fell to the wayside when they joined our camp and as a country we were more than happy to welcome a group of Olympic high achievers.

Unfortunately, not everything went as smoothly as the transition from the blue jersey to the white one. The jubilation on the night faded somewhat in years to come. Despite Chancellor Helmut Kohl's promises, the price tag was huge. Transfers from the West have exceeded €1.3 trillion for infrastructure and social programmes.

While many flocked to the West, no one wanted to go East and unemployment in some towns soared to over 20 per cent. Easterners turned their noses up at the capitalist west, while westerners felt put out.

"There were bananas everywhere. They didn't have them in the East, so they were giving them away. The streets were paved," one 'Westerner,' told me in a condescending manner about the days after the wall came down.

Many East Germans didn't feel national pride in being German, and some went on to suffer from 'Ostalgie" a severe yearning for the old East, where times were simpler.

I remember for years after the Fall it was still relevant what side people were from. Now nobody asks. Berlin is one of the most liberal cities in the world - a blueprint for diversity and tolerance. People are open-minded and they have more freedom than in most cities. Even now locals are still not particularly patriotic. "We're not really that nationalistic here. You'll have to go to Munich for that," one girl told me when I asked her where all the German fans were while I was watching the World Cup in a quiet bar.

Regardless of your artistic, musical or sexual orientation your needs will be fulfilled in Berlin. You can rent a large two-bed apartment for €500 a month and get a can of beer for 20 cent.

People come from all over Germany to be unemployed there. "Because you can live comfortably without working," one unemployed man told me. Needless to say such attitudes don't always sit well and a general attitude existed that the rest of the country is footing the bill. These days, the capital of cool has experienced a massive influx of spectators from all around the world. They've come to be part of the experience, but many a disgruntled commentator insists that they are bringing very little to the table. "It's full of wannabe hipsters now. They wouldn't be trailblazers in anything. They just heard that Berlin is to place to be so they've come," one local said.

"They're also driving the prices up. It's part of the cycle. Great cities lose their edge once everyone wants a slice of the pie," one disappointed clubber said.

Many say the clubs and the scene is nowhere near what it in the 90s, but when I watched the 25th anniversary celebrations I was filled with pride and joy, not only for the historical event, but also that we've moved on musically since David Hasselhoff performed there all those years ago.

Barbara McCarthy is half German and is a native German speaker. She has spent a lot of time in Germany, and has worked for CNN in Berlin.

Irish Independent