The Fall of the Wall & Pieces of Peace
I was asked by a journalist for El Pais newspaper in Spain if they could interview me about the border in Nothern Ireland last year and I refused.
Just like the wall in Berlin, personally, I know nothing about these borders nor could I find them easily on a map.
In 1995 while on a German student exchange, I met students my own age and when I said that I was from Ireland, one acted very surprised and said, "Your country is at war." I couldn't believe I was in Germany of all places having to explain that Ireland wasn't at war no matter what he saw on the news.
Either his reality or mine was skewed because we both saw the same images of bombings in Belfast in the mid-1990s. Yes Berlin was bombed extensively in the mid-1940s but 50 years later, it was the Irish border that was the issue as even Germany's East-West border had disappeared and all that was left of the wall was musuem exhibits and colourful graviti for tourists to photograph.
My parents received a large piece of the wall from friends in West Berlin which we lost when we moved house. The historical piece of rubble probably buried in our garden or the foundation of a wall.
Luckily, the Russian rubble that divided Germany for so long, could feel at home in Athlone with no wars to worry about and 100km from the nearest historical border.
Soon our own borders started to break down in Northern Ireland and a decade after the fall of the wall, Ireland was celebrating peace in Northern Ireland.
Still a piece of the Berlin Wall made it to Athlone only to be quickly forgotten about. Breaking that wall was one of the biggest stories of the late 20th century and men would have died sneaking close to that piece of stone by machine-gunners in sentry towers in the past.
That rock, coloured on one side, I would estimate to be about a kilo or two represented so much history only to be thrown out and forgotten about.
The rise and fall of the Nazis, the division of Berlin between East and West, the fear of nuclear war breaking out at Checkpoint Charlie, the smuggling of people across the border, the people executed on sight and the cars driven and smashed into the wall as people chiseled their pieces of history and chiseled out peace in Europe, while Knightrider's David Hasselhoff sang songs along the wall.
I saw this map of Germany recently and couldn't believe how far removed Berlin was from the rest of West Germany and I was ashamed to be honest as I have visited Berlin many many times and thought I knew all about the infamous wall. I have been to the Brandenburg Gate and seen the East Side Gallery and visited a museum with a Douglas C47 Dakota on the roof of the entrance.
The C47 Dakota, the military transport version of the DC3 shipped coal and food and all kinds of supplies into the city during the Berlin Airlift and saved the city from starvation and ruin.
How did I know so much history and not know how far away the city was from the West?
Seeing the map above blew my mind and just like my refusal to speak with a Spanish newspaper, I know that I know nothing of the border war and would have difficulty placing the border on a map.
Save in Athlone, I rarely crossed the border in my life and travelled East or West to Dublin or Galway.
In fact I have been to Berlin more often than Belfast and I told the Spanish newspaper that I would meet with them, give them some suggestions and ideas for their story about the border and travel with them if they needed a guide or photographer.
They had found an article of mine about a snippet of Irish history that had gained a lot of attention last September and saw that I lived in Madrid. They couldn't believe their luck that I was local but I couldn't trust someone to tell a piece of Irish history when I have yet to figure it out for myself.
The wall came down 31 years ago on the 9th of November, it was a milestone in human history and would I clearly need to brush up on. Ironically we have seen Donald Trump's presidency crumble down to but we haven't seen the end of hatred or those of his dangerous followers who know less about maps and the Berlin Wall than I do.
America is divided right now, there is a crazyman in control of thousands of nuclear weapons in the Whitehouse, waiting.
His dream of building a wall ruined and his inability to spell history on Twitter laughed at but what about the border in Northern Ireland, is that gone? is it, "Hustory?"
While I looked up some details on Wikipedia.org for a different topic, I came accros an article about the fall of the wall and German reunification and I was surprised to see the influence of Ireland's Taoiseach at the time.*
It appears that Margaret Thatcher wasn't keen on a united Germany after England fighting two World Wars against the Germans and many other European leaders had similar fears with Italy's Prime Minister joking,
"I love Germany so much that I prefer to see two of them"
Charles Haughey on the other hand supported German reunification and used Ireland's presidency of the EEC to call for an extraordinary European summit in Dublin to calm the fears of other European nations.
Haughey apparently saw similarities between Ireland and Germany, and said "I have expressed a personal view that coming as we do from a country which is also divided many of us would have sympathy with any wish of the people of the two German States for unification."
Hold onto those fragile little pieces of peace. Don't throw them out or forget them.
Let's build upon the lessons learned in Berlin and Norther Ireland, let's tear down the division that others will use in order to rise to power and let's open a hustory book once in a while and hope that we can forget about Donald Trump's regime for a while.
Let's also take a moment to appreciate how important Ireland can be in shaping the future of Europe.
Special thanks to my friends from West Germany. Klaus and Ushi who gave my family that valuable reminder of a city divided. The wall and the destruction of all those fragments of the rock and concrete and stone has become a symbol of peace, unification of people and understanding.
*Rest of Europe
Ireland's Taoiseach, Charles Haughey, supported German reunification and he took advantage of Ireland's presidency of the European Economic Communityto call for an extraordinary European summit in Dublin in April 1990 to calm the fears held of fellow members of the EEC. Haughey saw similarities between Ireland and Germany, and said "I have expressed a personal view that coming as we do from a country which is also divided many of us would have sympathy with any wish of the people of the two German States for unification". Der Spiegel later described other European leaders' opinion of reunification at the time as "icy". Italy's Giulio Andreotti warned against a revival of "pan-Germanism" and joked "I love Germany so much that I prefer to see two of them", and the Netherlands' Ruud Lubbers questioned the German right to self-determination. They shared Britain and France's concerns over a return to German militarism and the economic power of a reunified nation. The consensus opinion was that reunification, if it must occur, should not occur until at least 1995 and preferably much later.