Saturday, October 2, 2010

Wir sind das Volk!

Tomorrow, the Federal Republic of Germany (Bundesrepublik Deutschland) is twenty years old. If you're older than that you know the story behind that story and that it goes back to the end of World War II and the division of Europe into East and West.

I lived with my (West) German wife and our two children (dual-passported and why not? Their father is two-faced) in a city outside of Frankfurt in Land Hesse, the traditional leather capital of Europe, back in an era where Europeans made things, Offenbach am Main.

I had come to Germany as a member of the US Air Force in the fall of 1976 and when I landed at Rhein Main Air Base, I compensated for NOT speaking any German when getting into the taxi to take me to American Forces Network Headquarters damals (back then) at Bertramstrasse 6 by speaking English VERY LOUDLY in case the driver were deaf, I guess. The exchange rate was two Deutschmark and fifty pfennige the day I landed and the meter read twenty-two marks when we got to the station. I gave the driver a twenty dollar bill and tipped him five bucks and then wondered why he was so helpful.

Patrick was born in July of 1981, while I was still in the Air Force and Michelle came into our lives in May of 1987 while I was a civilian working as a TV production guy for the Army. At the height of the Cold War, and I really hope most of what you've read in the hyperlink isn't new information to you, the US forces in West Germany were practically the fifty-first state. We had our own department stores, groceries, hospitals, bowling alleys, liquor stores and clubs, housing areas and schools. I worked for a senior civilian, long deceased, who'd relocated from France when they had invited us to leave in the Sixties, who spoke not a word of German and told me, a skosh more smugly than I fancied, that 'you don't need any German to shop in the commissary (grocery store)."

If, like me, you lived 'on the economy', it didn't hurt (let me tell you) and I made some nice change doing voice over work for German based advertising agencies who worked on campaigns for American products marketed in Germany (but whose corporate masters, like me years earlier, couldn't be bothered to learn that Deutsch stuff). We spoke German in my house because it was my wife's house in her country and if our children noticed Dad's language skills were a bit loopy, they were small and took no notice.

When ARD and ZDF started to cover the Montagsdemonstrationen, not just West Germans took notice-but it was hard to understand what those peacefully protesting wanted or what they would do if they got it (though few actually suggested what 'it' might be) but the bewegung, Movement, took on a momentum of its own and it was obvious to all of us, on both sides of the barbed wire that demarcated East from West that winds of change had come. Some historians have suggested it was Gorbachov who tore down the wall that Ronald Reagan had called upon him to raze. I know a lot of dumbass Americans who think about something to do with vodka when you say Gorby's name, but in my basement is a piece of the Berlin Wall.

Twenty years after Wiedervereinigung not every Trabant and Wartburg has been replaced by an Opel Senator and a lot of work still needs to be done before all neighbors live as one people in one country. Sunday is Tag der Deutschen Einheit--other places and faces could do worse than the Germans as an example.
-bill kenny

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