Duisburg, Westdeutschland (West Germany). It’s the morning after the 9th of november 1989, just past 10 AM. Huib, a 37 year old Dutch citizen leaves his train. It was the first international train coming from the Netherlands for that day. Huib is on his way to Hamm to visit the store where he bought his expensive computer Disk Drive.
Just minutes ago, the Dutch-German border control officers checked his passport and verified his identity. They entered his name in a hyper modern portable computer which listed all the persons who either had some fines open or were wanted by the police for other reasons.
Side story: One of Huib’s coworkers from the Dutch Railway company had recently made the mistake of asking how that new system works, with a computer and such. They were eager to show him how it worked and did this by entering his name into it. Immediately a warning popped up, because he still had a traffic fine open. The friendliness of the officer disappeared like snow in the sun as he was forcefully taken away and had to pay it on the spot. Curiosity killed the cat!
After getting some fresh coffee to warm up from the cold autumn morning, he entered the train to Hamm and took a seat to continue reading his newspaper.
A bit later, Richard enters the same train and comes looking for his friend. after passing what feels like many carriages, he spotted him reading his newspaper. Upon hearing his name, Huib closes the newspaper in order to greet his friend. Richard was now able to see the front page and immediately asked “Where did you have that news paper printed? It looks quite genuine.”
On the front page, the main headline was nothing less than very, very clear:
THE WALL IS GONE
Just over 200km away from there, at that very same time, two friends were driving on the Autobahn. They are headed northwest, coming from Heidelberg. They were heading towards Meiningen, a city in the Deutsche Demokratische Republik. It was an international trip, as they lived in Westdeutschland. However, they heard the rumors that the Iron curtain had opened up and passage was now free to any DDR-citizen who wanted to come to the west.
They were really interested in seeing the DDR and how daily life looked there. They were also really eager to see the other side. They wanted to meet people and to hear stories. After well over 3 hours of driving, they neared the city of Meiningen, close to the border to the DDR.
It’s 10 still in the morning on the day the Berlin Wall came down. 1142 kilometers away from this very border crossing lies the Italian city of Salerno. In a big gym hall, people were being woken up after a fun night out. They are about one hundred students from all over Europe and gathered for a meeting. They all came to Salerno to talk about how they could improve possibilities for studying abroad and exchanging culture, while also having the general assembly for their student’s association, ÆGEE.
Slightly hungover from last night, the young Europeans sit down for the first plenary session of the general assembly. One of the local organizers sits in the plenary hall, reading a newspaper. It contained a lot of news about what happened in the world. Internet is still a big mysterious thing, mostly to be found at universities and TV news broadcasts are generally a day or two behind on the big world news. No word about any walls whatsoever are to be found in today’s Italian newspaper.
While nearing Eußenhausen/Meiningen, the Heidelberg people notice a large amount of Trabant cars driving in the opposite direction. Citizens of the DDR are traveling into the west en masse. Not a huge surprise, because they have just gained the freedom to do so after being locked up for almost 30 years. At the actual border crossing something interesting happens. They meet up with the border control officer and he is surprised to see them: “You are the first people to cross the border in the opposite direction! I have no idea what procedure I have to follow to allow you into the DDR.”
Even consulting his superiors doesn’t help, and because they are completely overloaded with the vast amount of traffic in the other direction, that while being sorry for it, they have no other option than to temporarily deny them access to the DDR until they figure out how to deal with traffic the other way. Within a few days, this situation will off course change and well before the country is officially reunited, they will visit the DDR many many times.
On their way to Hamm, Dutchies Huib & Richard have quite the topic to talk about. The wall came down. How big are the implications of this? How will the world change because of this? The mood is festive, not just with them but in the whole train. People are happy and glad the wall came down.
While discussing all of this, they spot a man who is all in tears. Today is possibly the most important day in European history since the end of World War 2, and for many Germans this is a bit overwhelming. He has not seen his family in the DDR for over 25 years, and got on the train first thing in the morning in able to visit them. Huib & Richard, having finished decide to give him this very iconic newspaper
In Salerno, nothing happens. The event is somewhat like a closed bubble and for several days nobody would hear about that the Europe they’d like to change so much… is changing so much. Little do they know about the news before departing home. The West German participants arrived in Salerno from Westdeutschland, but arrive back home in what is now de facto a reunited Germany. Within a single year, the country will officially become one again.
As for me? I was just over one year old back then, and I lived in the Netherlands, just across the Dutch-German border. I obviously have no memories of the whole event. One of my earliest memories is however the journey of my parents into Germany, to do grocery shopping which was slightly cheaper in Germany. Before we arrived on the – nowadays 20 minutes away – destination, we were stopped by the German border control and had to show passports.
I did however grow up in a changing Europe. The iron curtain disappeared, borders opened and eventually many European countries stared to share the same currency. I do remember getting to pay TWENTY!!! Belgian Francs for some form of candy. Little did I know that was just about 50 eurocents. Nowadays I cherish the fact that if I would like to move to Poland, Italy or Sweden, all I have to do is go there and rent a flat.
I am a passenger. I have traveled through or to over half of the countries of the European continent, mostly by train. My freedom to do so is a result of (amongst many other reasons) the Berlin wall and the Iron Curtain coming down. Whenever I’m in Berlin riding the S-bahn, I cant prevent myself from humming the first notes of The Passenger by Iggy Pop.
In July of this year, I had the opportunity to visit the European Parliament. Right at the entrance of the Hemicycle building in which all parliamentarian sessions and right where all the European leaders meet, is a very clear reminder of the one thing we don’t want:
In April of this year I had the honor to meet the former Mayor of the city of Heidelberg, who told me and other members of the still existing AEGEE about her experiences at the border crossing between Westdeutschland and the DDR. In October of this year, during Autumn Agora Salerno 2019 I met up with some of the people who were present at Autumn Agora Salerno 1989 and heard their stories.