Twenty-five years ago, Friday morning. I’d been in my new home not quite two months. I had my routine for working days: the alarm at 7.00am, three prods at the snooze button whilst I got over the shock of waking, then downstairs for breakfast. I wouldn’t get a TV until the World Cup in 1990, and I’d probably stopped listening to Radio 1 by then, so what I did for entertainment I can no longer remember. But, as always, I was in the shower when the eight o’clock news was taking place, then off to work in Altrincham.
I still parked in the big car park, on the rough ground behind the Railway Station, and walked up to the back of our office, letting myself in with the key entrusted to me as the firm’s senior Assistant. En route, I grabbed the Guardian at the little newsagents just before the railway bridge, but it wasn’t until I settled myself in my office, which had belonged to the Senior Partner before he retired, that I took a first look at the news of the day. The Berlin Wall had come down.
Everyone else knew. It had been opened the previous evening, when I had been otherwise engaged with a close personal friend. Everybody in the office had read or heard some form of news that morning and I was the last to find out. It made for a difficult day at work. The world had changed. It had turned upside down in a moment and the unbelievable had happened.
The next day was my birthday, my 34th. The Wall had been erected twenty-seven years earlier, but I had been six at the time, with the interest and horizons of a six year old boy in an East Manchester back-street terrace. As far as I was concerned, the Berlin Wall had always been there, a fact of the life we all lived, one of the fundamental pillars of our existence. East was divided from West: that was how things were, how they had always been, how they always would be. To grow up in the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties was to accept the Cold War as being as much a part of our lives as was breathing. The Berlin Wall, though it ran only a tiny fraction of the Iron Curtain, though it lay so many miles beyond the Curtain, a thing to keep the West out of the East, was still the Iron Curtain made solid. It was the border.
And it was gone. That night, I watched the BBC Nine O’Clock News, watched the film of Berliners pouring through the Wall, clambering on and over it, pulling pieces off it. The World had Changed. I sat and wept tears of joy, that this could happen, that this had happened and that I had lived to see it. Even at only 33 years and 364 days, it was a lifetime of waiting without belief.
I could hardly work that day, that Friday. How could I concentrate? How was it possible to think of Sales and Purchases and Mortgage Redemptions on the day that The World Had Changed. It didn’t affect me in the slightest, it made not one jot or tittle of difference to me and my life, but how could it not affect me? All the assumptions of a life in the shadow of history suddenly gone, released, dissolved.
It was a year to stand forever in History, 1989. The year of Tiananmen to Timisoara. The Berlin Wall was only the beginning. Chinese Students had demonstrated for Democracy and been crushed by tanks in Tiananmen Square in the May. It might have been a distant land, but it was a time of dismay and despair. And now, in our own world, in our Europe, suddenly Democracy was ablaze. East Germay was just the beginning of disbelief at the crumbling of certainties.
And in the end there was Timisoara. A Romanian Dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, secure and impregnable in his power, confronted a rally from his balcony. Instead of doing what he expected, backing down, running away, accepting that he could do with their lives what he had always done, they booed. Three-quartes of Romania, watching live, saw the shocked expression on Ceausescu’s face as his hold on power was broken. Revolution swept him and the Communists from power.
Twenty-five years ago. The happiness of that year, the hope, the boundless possibilities, seem far away now, more than twenty-five years ago. But I can still remember what it felt like on that day, when we were offered the chance to believe.