I was in Berlin last weekend and even almost twenty years after what we Germans call -- with all modesty -- "the change" ("die Wende") -- it still never ceases to amaze me that I can now wander around ALL parts of the city without fears of Stasi arrest, sniper fire or the need to change my substantial Western valuta into tin, anti-Monopoly money that, even with all the will in the world, you couldn't spend.
I even admit that I got quite emotional on Sunday morning, walking down a deserted Friedrichstrasse towards Checkpoint Charlie, which today lives on as a mere tourist gimmick. I'd been to East Berlin before 1989 and remember vividly the angst-inducing eeriness of being somehow in "enemy territory" after crossing the line between what we then saw as "us" and "them." Now it's all posh hotels -- on Sunday, someone asked me for directions to the Hilton, while standing on territory that once represented the epitome of anti-Hiltonness -- designer boutiques and gleaming high-end SUVs.
To give you a sense of the absurdity of that world we have lost (I can't give you a sense of the typical GDR smell of Trabant exhausts mingled with the unmistakeable whiff of brown coal vapours), I bring you -- via Der Spiegel -- an illustrative piece of GDR propaganda.
Note the references to the "Antifaschistische Schutzwall" ("antifascist protection wall") and the "ewig Gestrigen" (i.e. the eternally outdated adherents of capitalism). It's only auf Deutsch, I'm afraid, but the pictures -- along with the speaker's forward-looking tone underlined by the futuristic soundtrack -- speak for themselves.
Competition: Who can name the Russian traditional song, electronically and bossa-novacly distorted beyond recognition, played halfway through the clip?
Prize: Our amazement and respect (these don't come cheap).