Monday, November 16, 2009

The Berlin Wall and History (or Life) as Disney

by Paul Doolan
November 9th has long been a painful anniversary for the German people. This was the night in 1938, the so called “Night of the Broken Glass” or “Kristalnacht”, when Nazi thugs unleashed their ferocity upon the country’s Jewish population and commenced the journey along the path towards Genocide. On November 9th 1989 the people of East Berlin scaled and finally brought down the wall that separated the city, but it has thus far been impossible to turn that ominous date into one of celebration. However, if you were watching TV on Monday night you will know that now, 20 years after the fall of the wall, November 9th has taken on a wholly new hue, with giant dominoes, pink exploding fireworks, Bon Jovi and Paul van Dyck, as well as an array of old star historical actors like Nemeth, Walesa and Gorbachev playing themselves. The remembrance of November 1989 has, despite the dismal Berlin rain, become a feel good cause for celebration.
On the Saturday before the fireworks Thomas Gottschalk, Germany’s most famous TV personality and celebrity interviewer, presented his prime-time TV show “Wetten Dass…?” The ever happy Gottschalk, wearing a shiny suit, red leather shoes and a big buckled belt, high-fived with the Black Eyed Peas, hugged Robbbie Williams and chatted amiably with a semi-nude Lady GaGa. In Berlin on November 9th, still wearing the same loud buckled belt, he pumped hands with Mikhail Gorbachev, hugged Bon Jovi and led the count-down to the reenactment of the wall coming down. Watched by a collection of celebrity political characters, he enthusiastically called out, “drei, zwei, eins” and the dominoes began their protracted fall as pink fireworks leapt and exploded from behind the Brandenburg Gate. Snow White’s Castle, I couldn’t help think, with its nightly parade of celebrity cartoon characters and its exploding fireworks.
I don’t know what I had expected, but not this tacky celebration of that famous night when the people brought down a dictatorship. The sound-bites from old Cold War warriors, clichéd speeches from “world leaders”, including Obama’s specially recorded message explaining to the German people in grade 2 English the significance of what they had done (had his speech writer had a day off?), the tiring enthusiasm of white track-suited teenage helpers, the truly awful Eurovision Song Contest like music – all of this contributed to my sense that this is history as therapy, history with the nasty bits left out, history as part of the happiness industry, history as entertainment. In other words, with its Snow White Castle and Mickey Mouse politicians, it was history as Disney.
As the politicians sat, well wrapped up against the cold – Vladamir Medvedev and Hilary Clinton, Nikolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel – they were protected from the elements by a waterproof canopy. And what of the people who had actually scaled the wall, the ones who had brought it down? The crowd were left standing in the rain.

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