Thursday, November 12, 2009

Remembering Berlin

Philippine Daily Inquirer/Opinion/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo
I OWN A PIECE or pieces of the Berlin Wall. A friend who went to Berlin shortly after the fall of the wall in 1989 brought home a piece for me.

Two years later, in 1991, I and several journalists were in Germany for a two-week cross-country tour—courtesy of a German press association, Germany’s department of tourism and Lufthansa. This was my second time in Germany. Berlin was one of the places we visited. We were there for the first anniversary of the reunification of West and East Germany which happened on Oct. 3, 1990.

Of course, I got pieces of the wall, but that time they came as part of a brooch which young artists made and sold near the wall area. I bought a beautiful molded face of a woman with one cheek covered with tiny pieces of the wall. I still have it and wear it now and then.

I remember being in a square where the statues of communism’s godfathers Marx and Engels stood. On the base of the statues someone had sprayed graffiti which said “Wir sind unschuldig.” Unschuldig means un-guilty. On closer look, one could see that someone had sprayed black paint on the un, as if to make the pair own up while at the same time absolving them. Another thoughtful graffiti sprayer had put back the un. And so the two gentlemen were pleading un-guilty once again.

Tourists roaming about at the square took turns posing for photographs beside the statues. Some even clambered up to sit on the lap of Papa Marx. One tourist picked the statue’s nose while his wife snapped a picture. Of course, I posed too. Eighteen years later my photo still looks good. I also have photos of myself writing graffiti on the wall.

Un-guilty or innocent of what?

With the collapse of communist governments in Europe and the reunification of the two Germanys, I couldn’t help thinking then that Marx and Engels must have been turning in their graves and their fans feeling low.

Now, 20 years later, as the world celebrates the fall of the wall, here comes a statement from the god/father of communism in the Philippines, Jose Ma. Sison, who is living in self-exile in Europe (not in North Korea). In paragraph after paragraph he perorates… “Since the fall of the Berlin wall…,” laying all the blame on capitalism and arguing why socialism is necessary. He is lamenting the fall of the wall and enumerating the ills in the world that came after it, practically pining for the Iron Curtain days.

If the wall could talk back… Let me say that I have kept the book that I bought at the museum at Checkpoint Charlie. It shows, through photographs and accounts, the ways and means that people in the communist-ruled East used to escape to freedom to the West during the Cold War.

Back to my reminiscing… At Checkpoint Charlie people sold chips of the old Berlin Wall. Our guide quipped that if someday all the chips that people bought were pieced together, the result would be a structure longer than the Great Wall of China. Where did all the chips come from? Your guess is as good as mine.

Berlin in 1991 was a study in contrast. To celebrate or not to celebrate—that was the debate. That was the first year after the reunification brought about by the crumbling of the wall that divided a people for decades. Curiously, the national official celebration was held in Hamburg at that time.

But the celebration in Berlin which we attended was held at the Rathaus. Beer and wine flowed. But there were also counter-celebrations. In front of the imposing Berlin Cathedral (on the East’s side), some 5,000 Berliners rallied. Almost without exception, every man or woman said he/she was for reunification, but always quickly added that it had been difficult. Prices of goods had soared and the daily earnings of the easterners had not gone up. East and West had been together only for a year.

The high cost of reunification was indeed daunting. In the East, we visited a factory that made lorries and street sweeping machines. A third or some 800 workers had been laid off. A top official of the factory, whose job it was to break the news gently to the employees, admitted his job was indeed a difficult one. A company from the West had bought the factory, and employees had to shape up or else. First to go were the incompetents who had it so good under their communist bosses.

Officials of the Treuhand-Ansalti (something like our Asset Privatization Trust), the agency in charge of privatizing companies in the East, had their hands full trying to dispose of them. It was not an easy job finding buyers of former state-owned firms whose products could not compete with those made in the West.

Indeed, there was unease on the first anniversary of Germany’s reunification. But there was a positive side to it in that the people realized early the cost that had to be paid. I couldn’t help thinking then, that in the second year after our own 1986 People Power Revolt, we were still discoing on the streets. On the third and fourth we were still in the clouds. The Germans were back to earth early.

Nineteen years after reunification, 20 years after the fall of the wall, look at them now.

As I rummaged through my Berlin photos and thingamajigs today, I found five Lenin pins that were the leftovers of the dozen or so that I bought in East Berlin for my nostalgic G&D (grim and determined) friends back home. Any takers? Maybe it’s time to sell them on e-Bay.

I hope to visit Germany again one day. One of the places I would like to visit (which many of my schoolmates have visited) would be that old little “castle” near Lake Starnberg in Bavaria where the German nuns of my alma mater came from, they who brought us the sound of the three Bs—Bach, Brahms and Beethoven.