ALTHOUGH I was quite young, I can remember the day the Berlin Wall came down. I was oblivious to its meaning or to the true emotion that was felt by the people that were dancing, jumping and tearing it down. However, I remember being fascinated by it and I remember my parents talking about the power of people.
The images have stayed with me and whenever I see them, I remember being young and I remember watching the news with intent. Looking back, I also think how odd it was that I was up so late watching it.
It has been 20 years since that night in November when a series of errors brought an end to the separation of a city, a country and a continent and yet for me, it is still a most remarkable thing to watch and ponder over. It was the coming together of people from two sides of a city. But in reality, it was the collision of two vastly different and contrasting worlds who had endured much and with their hands, began the tearing down not only blocks and mortar but a political regime.
November 9, 1989 was a momentous occasion and I think that it is only right that we marked it this week with ceremony and with programming. George Lee’s documentary series Beyond the Berlin Wall was particularly good and it offered an insight into the lives of those that were most affected by the Cold War and the harshness that the wall brought. It was four-part series and each part dealt with a different viewpoint of the wall and the changes that have followed.
George himself was his usual self and one can only think that he must have done this before the sirens of political life called him to Leinster House. His manner, as always, is very abrupt and matter-of-fact. It suits this type of documentary and he suits the people he is studying.
Of course, economics plays a significant role in his reports but I was glad to see that he was able to sit and chat with people and to elicit more than just their tax returns from them. However, despite George’s efforts, there was a programme that caught my attention even more. The Night the Wall Came Down on RTÉ Two told the story of the events of the day which led to this surprise announcement and acts by the people of a divided Germany.
It was a poignant documentary that followed the lives of the main people involved in the decision-making process, from the civil servant who wrote the proposed change in border crossings, to the guard on the wall that thought better of opening fire on the hundreds who turned out to claim free passage across the bridge and instead ordered the gates to be opened.
There were so many little things that set in motion the events of the day – the defiance of an officer to go with a draft bill, the forgetting, or rather the not seeing, of an embargo notice and the broadcasting of the event to the media who just happened to have a satellite booked for the wall that evening. Remember this was 1989 and mobile phones and satellites were not as freely used or indeed available as now. There was true drama associated with the day and this was reflected in the documentary and in its very good reconstructions, which brought the viewer into the heart of the matter and the lives of those involved.
The programme also focused on the ordinary people and, in particular, one couple who were a great symbol of the hope the fallen wall brought. They were one of the first to cross and on reaching the other side, the man spun his wife around and threw his hat into the air. They had been terrified and the woman recounted how she thought of each of the 100 people who had been shot trying to cross before, as she took every step to the West.
This documentary was not ground-breaking or very original but it was interesting and for some reason it touched a nerve with me.
Another 20th anniversary was also celebrated this week. It has been 20 years since Dustin Hoffman or Dustin the Turkey came onto our screens. Another day I remember like yesterday. I remember watching all week as Zig and Zag waited for the arrival of Dustin Hoffman only to de disappointed when it turned out to be a turkey who fancied himself as a bit of a builder and operated out of a HiAce van on the Long Mile Road.
I remember well the green anorak jacket and the fact that, back then, he had a long piece of pink skin hanging off his beak aswell. It was cut by the vet who used to visit. I loved Dustin as a kid and a teenager and although he has declined in recent years, there was a time when he was a true commentator of Ireland and his sarcasm humbled even the most lofty of Irish politicians and celebrities. He was a comic and the programme showed all of the genius he displayed over the years in a very nice and compact slot. It was well woth viewing and can be seen now on RTÉ Player.
I haven’t gotten around to watching it yet but a programme that people are talking about is Neil Delamare’s Republic of Telly. It has not received the best reviews, but my review will follow as soon as I have seen it but check it out for yourselves first on Monday evenings.