QOTM: The fall of the Berlin Wall means… by YEM Cambridge

German Unity - BerlinCelebrations in Berlin, November 2014

Apparently a butterfly flapping its wings in Japan could set a tornado off in the Indian Ocean. That fateful night there was no butterfly, and the physical distance between the bureaucrat reading a note in front of astonished journalists and the waves of popular rejoicing did not exceed a few kilometres – but a tornado was nevertheless set in motion. It started as an uncontrollable, unstoppable flow of people heading where the sun had disappeared a few hours earlier, greeted on their way by citizens of the land of sunset. It soon involved the healing of a huge sore which run through the heart of a city and the soul of a nation. And before one could realise what was going on, the tornado had ushered in a new age of continental unity, a time for peoples to fraternise.

Today, a stroll along what is still a convalescing scar obliges tourists to zigzag between construction sites, renovation works, and urban space refurbishments – just as an intellectual InterRail from the Tagus to the Vantaa, from the Alfeios to the Liffey carries one across a moving picture of constant transformation. That fateful night of November, 25 years ago, is after all just one episode in the most recent chapter of a big book, whose writer has not rested ever since a weird animal marching on his two feet crossed the Bosphorus. Yet it carries special significance to this day because, together with pieces of concrete and barbed wire, the latest partition of a Eurasian peninsula was being knocked down. A stream of aspirations and claims had overwhelmed the stillness of a hierarchized state and society; the warmth of popular joy had triumphed over the coldness of realpolitik. After that fateful night, many things in the topography of a North European capital city, just as in the economic and social fabric of the whole continent, were never to be the same.

From the Italian coffee we can have with our Polish friends in Lublijana, to the seat the Baltic republics have gained at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, the epochal consequences of that fateful night are wide-ranging. At the simplest level, however, the fall of the Berlin Wall means one thing: that power resides with the people. For the butterfly, on the 9th November 1989, was perhaps not a note slipped among the papers of a nervous politician – its wings were in the streets of Berlin, and they sung ‘Wir sind das Volk’.