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Greeks who witnessed the fall of the Berlin wall

09 November 2009 / 16:11:08  GRReporter
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Today is 20 year anniversary of the Berlin Wall fall, which symbolically noted the beginning of the new era and the end of the Cold War. November 9, 1989 is a date, which left an imprint not only on German history but on whole Europe and the whole world. The fall of the wall united countries, nations and families and at the same time it destroyed ideologies and created new problems. At that point there were 10 000 Greeks in Germany, who live through the beginning of the “new history” along with Germans. Six of those Greek tell for Ethnos newspaper how Eastern Germans crossed the wall and celebrated their freedom.

There are mixed feelings: some remember the wall with nostalgia and don’t like the fall of socialism but most of them believe that the fall of the Berlin wall opened new horizons for establishing peace and uniting Europe. Everybody agree about one thing – that from that day on an era ended and a new one started – for better or worse but a different one…

The divided Berlin was taught to live with the wall, which for 29 years was an inseparable part of the city. “West Berlin was like an island in Eastern Germany. There was a wall around it. We knew where the city was, we saw it, and sometimes we climbed higher in order to see what’s on the other side but we never spoke too much about this,” says Lamros Savidis – deputy chairman of the Greek community in Berlin. In 1968 he left for Germany to finish university and since then he has been living there. In 1974 he moved to Western Berlin, where he lives until today.

In order to make people stay in Berlin, which was separated from Western Germany, the government tried to motivate them by undertaking some measures – it build universities, cancelled the curfews and the army service for men. The most characteristic example is the “Berlin salary bonus” which was given to every permanent citizen of the city.

People living in Western Berlin were easily able to visit Eastern Berlin as tourists. “We used to go there often. It was a bit complicated though: visa control, currency exchange, lines of 50-100 people,” shares Sterios Logotetidis, professor in Aristotle University in Thessaloniki. There used to be police in the city, which was keeping track of tourists “but we were not afraid…we used to look for books and go to the theater. I remember that I saw a Brecht play there,” says Nikos Kozanitis. “We used to sit in bars and talk to the people there. They told us they have many restrictions and they can’t speak freely,” adds Mr. Savidis. “But Berlin was clean and in order. During the mid 80s it was calm but what impressed me was the poverty. Some basic home goods were missing like laundry machines and TVs were very expensive.”

On the other hand people from Eastern Germany believed that Western Berlin was a thorn in the country’s heart, explains Pavlos Triandafilidis, who lives in Berlin. He was born in Leipzig and his grandparents are Greek, who left for Eastern Germany during the partisan war in Greece, which started after the end of WWII. “As children of partisan foreigners we used to have good life in Eastern Germany. It was so good that sometimes I was ashamed I was so privileged. We even had a school for Greek children. At home we used to speak only Greek…”

“Live in Eastern Berlin was carefree. We used to live in poorer condition compared to people from Western Germany but we were never hungry…we had heating and we had a home. The state protected us and when we used to get sick we never had to face a financial problem, because everything was paid by the state,” says Pavlos Triandafilidis. “But in order to buy a car, 16-28 years had to pass. When a child was born, you had to sign up and wait…” The propaganda was big and all the time – even in school. “Once per week we had a politics class… But when we were kids we used to love the West, because there you could buy jeans, chewing gums and life was more luxurious. There people used to listen to the Rolling Stones and Beatles!”

Few months before the Berlin wall fell, Panayiotis Andrianesis, who was 20 years old at the time, says that the tension was felt even on the streets in the Eastern part of the city: “There were huge buildings and empty streets, empty sidewalks…there were no people. I could feel the suspicion in the eyes of people passing by. The police treated my father very badly, who used to wait for us in a parking lot next to our car… After that we ate in a luxurious restaurant (according to the standards back then), where there were no normal napkins and silverware was made of aluminum.”

To the East everything started changing with the speed of light – Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in the USSR and he started speaking of reorganization and transparency; the demonstrations in Leipzig started, says Makis Kivelos – translator and writer, who in 1989 lived in Western Berlin. And even though to the “west” people could not wait for communism to fall, Greeks in Germany could not believe their eyes when they saw the wall falling on the state TV station. “Greeks from the Eastern bloc were looking at us as traitors because we had left for Western Berlin. The first thing I remember when we moved to Western Germany was a Coca-Cola billboard,” remembers Mr. Kivelos.

In October 1989 the student parade dedicated to the 40 year anniversary of the creation of National Republic of Germany turned into a protest in support of the change. Instead of them chanting slogans of the party, students were shouting ‘Gorbachev!’. “Honecker did not like this at all,” notes Mr. Triandafilidis.

Tags: Berlin wall History Eastern bloc Germany
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