9 November 1989
I’m not sure of the age range of readers here, but I’m old enough to have been in Berlin, and East Germany, just months after the Berlin Wall fell. I’ve still got an expired passport with a DDR (German Democratic Republic = East Germany) stamp in it. I visited with my wife, who knows Germany, East and West, better than I do. West and East Germans mingled throughout the streets of Berlin, but you could easily tell the latter by their shabby clothing. We ate in a Cuban restaurant in East Berlin – the tacky socialist bloc version of tacky Polynesian restaurants in the United States. Most of the people we talked to were still in a state of euphoria about the Wende (the change), – I still remember the beatific smile our waitress gave us when we asked her – although we also ran into those who had had modest security under communism, and who worried about how they would fare under capitalism.
According to one story, Schiller’s Ode to Joy, set by Beethoven in his Ninth Symphony, was originally an Ode to Freedom; Prussian censors forced Schiller to change the words. Leonard Bernstein turned it back it an Ode to Freedom in a concert in Berlin in December, 1989.
Germans took a long time to go from writing music about freedom and cherishing their inner freedom, to being politically free. Here’s a student song going back to the nineteenth century
Die Gedanken sind frei, wer kann sie erraten,
Ich denke was ich will und was mich beglücket,
Ich liebe den Wein, mein Mädchen vor allen,
Und sperrt man mich ein im finsteren Kerker,
|Thoughts are free, who can guess them?
They fly by like nocturnal shadows.
No man can know them, no hunter can shoot them
with powder and lead: Thoughts are free!
I think what I want, and what pleases me,
I love wine, and my girl above all,
And if I am thrown into the darkest dungeon,