Berlin Wall

Published November 11, 2019, 12:03 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat

BELOW THE LINE

By AMBASSADOR JOSE ABETO ZAIDE

Ambassador  José Abeto  Zaide
Ambassador José Abeto Zaide

Germany celebrates its national day on 3 October, German Unity Day (Tag der Deutschen Einheit). It commemorates German reunification in 1990 when the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) and the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) were unified.

Those who are longer in the tooth may remember two Germanies after WW2 – East Germany allied with the Soviet Bloc with its capital in Berlin, and West Germany with the Allied Bloc with Bonn, a small town in Germany, for its capital.  Germans dreamed for Reunification (wielder vereingug) but the bets were “nimmer aufwiedersehn” (Never to meet again).

November 9, 1989, was the turning point for the divided Germany. The East German government was under pressure from protesters seeking democratic rights and freedoms. When the East German spokesman improvised on November 9 to say that East Germany would lift travel restrictions to the West, no one could have anticipated that the Berlin Wall would fall by evening’s end.   Thirty years after, the debate rages on: Was the sudden demise of the Berlin Wall an accident of history, or a slip of the tongue? Was it the result of a misunderstanding within the Communist hierarchy, or a calculated gesture by the East German dictatorship?

***

The problem with old fogeys like me (like old soldiers who never die) is that we live in the past, cannot catch up with new high tech, and we do not seem to be able to let go of an old idea.  And trying to relive it or revive it may get in the way of present-day priorities.

As our last ambassador to Bonn and the first to Berlin, I visited in 1999 the Gropius Museum exhibit on monumental events leading to the next millennium.  It included Neil Armstrong’s landing on the moon, Tianamen Square, etc.

I was, however, disappointed to see that for the exhibit curator, the most significant event in 1988 was Stefi Graf winning the Wimbledon. Somehow, those with short memory forget that in an archipelago 10,000 miles away, Filipino EDSA People Power brought down a strongman.  Somehow they forget what Vaclav Havel remembers  —   that EDSA People Power was an inspiration to Prague’s Velvet Revolution, which in turn was an inspiration to the Fall of the Berlin Wall.

I was consumed with the objective of rectifying this.  And, ohne hast aber ohne rast (without haste but without pause), we chipped away at this political amnesia.  The Embassy worked quietly with Berlin Protocol to acquire a piece of the Berlin Wall for EDSA.  Talks proceeded well and Consul General Joselito Jimeno inspected with the deputy chief of protocol some Berlin Wall artifacts in the former Russian sector.

We convinced the Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit to donate a one-meter segment of the Berlin Wall when President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo visits. The embassy could not think of a more poignant recognition of EDSA I and II (and German debt to the Filipino).

The task was do-able.  It only needed: 1) President Arroyo to sign the Golden Book at the Berlin Rathaus (City Hall) as all visiting heads of state do; 2) Consent of the EDSA Committee to receive the Berlin Wall; and 3) Logistical support for shipment of the 2.3-ton gift package (DM4,000 CIF delivery to Manila).

BEST-LAID SCHEMES O’ MICE AND MEN GANG AFT AGLEY. But our plans went for naught becauseon September 11, 2001 the New York World Trade Center twin towers collapsed after being hit by two hijacked commercial airliners. The Davos meeting was canceled; and President Arroyo canceled her travel to Berlin and London.

As insurance, the embassy marked “X” the Berlin Wall concrete panel reserved for the Philippines, Consul Tito Ausan had his photo next to it for identification, and we staked ownership by writing a familiar Filipino graffiti on it, “BAWAL ….. DITO”.

***

FAST-FORWARD TO TODAY.  The new German Ambassador to the Philippines H. E. Anke Reiffenstuel marked last Saturday, 9 November 2019 the 30th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall.  Several sections of the Berlin Wall have been sent to various cities all over the world during state visits since the Wall came down in 1989. The fragment with the Philippine National Museum, called “Mauerteil,” is the 22nd of the wall’s 40 sections. It stands 3.65 meters tall and 1.2 meters wide, and weighs 2.8 tons.  The German Ambassador expressed the hope that we can unveil our piece of the Berlin Wall in a permanent open public site as a “symbol of close friendship and strong partnership between our two countries  –  accessible to the public and at the center of the capital.”

As a sports buff would say, the ball is in our court.

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