Ironically, the Berlin Wall could now unite Germany.
2011 has been an interesting year so far. Certainly (last week’s riots aside), it can be seen as a year where old demons are finally laid to rest. Her Majesty laid a wreath at the Dublin Garden of Remembrance in May and last week, amid all the chaos over here, the Germans marked half a century since the erection of the Berlin Wall and those who lost their live trying to cross the border. If we are brutally honest, there aren’t many other events from the 20th Century that they are likely to commemorate and it has taken many years for them to mark this particular incident. For the most part, the Germans have tried to expunge the wall from their collective memories. It is not hard to see why, this physical manifestation of Winston Churchill’s ‘Iron Curtain’ not only carved up the city but destroyed families too. What little remains of it today however, has now been designated a memorial site; there is even a Berlin Wall Foundation to manage it.
It’s not a chapter of history that I can recall with any degree of accuracy, I was only four when the wall came down; my brother was less than two days old. The only recollection vaguely associated with the cold war in any way is watching an early morning show hosted by Timmy Mallet (any one under the age of 20 may have to consult Wikipedia), and he told all us little kiddies how the iconic sickle and hammer flag would no longer be used by the former soviets (I don’t however remember the exact wording, but that was the jist of it). As a brief aside, I thoroughly recommend the 2003 film Goodbye Lenin to everyone.
I suppose this is a particularly apt moment for Germany to acknowledge this particular episode in their history. They can look back on five decades of huge change and there is a great deal of which they can be proud. If we cast our minds back to the immediate aftermath of the Treaty of Versailles, Germany was brought to its knees, the reparations payments alone bankrupted the country; they had truly hit rock bottom (incidentally they paid their last instalment earlier this year). Look at them now however, as a member of the top five economic powers of the world, they essentially bankroll Europe and as such commend a huge influence globally. Their health care system is second to none; their transport system is faultless and anyone who has been to Oktoberfest will tell you they know how to enjoy themselves! As a people they are wonderfully hospitable and refreshingly practical, they could see the writing on the wall when it came to reducing national debt, no ifs, no buts, they accepted is and there is a programme in place to try and save around €10 billion per year. This is not to say that the Germans are not ruthless when they need to be, they are one of the main beneficiaries of the Euro; a single currency absolutely works in their favour. Since 2009 alone, the German economy has seen the creation of over half a million new jobs; this growth comes as a direct result of a weak euro and strong exports. Anthony Doyle of M&G put it best, I think, when he said that “The German public bailing out southern Europe is the cost that they need to pay for strong growth outcomes and rising standards of living. Bailing out peripheral Europe is like a tax that has until now been deferred.”
With the markets in a constant state of nervous tension, who can say how deep Germany may have to dig in order to help her Eurozone peers, and what this might mean for their own financial stability. I suspect Ms Merkel had it was a thought in the back of her mind as she and President Christian Wulff lead their nation in the wonderfully dignified, albeit slightly uneasy, displays of reverence last week.