Hester Vaizey’s new book is one of a clutch of gripping reads reflecting on the Fall of the Berlin Wall. Other books will track exactly what happened, but this one captures individual case stories and brings to light – and to life- what the Fall of the Wall was for East Germans. Eight East Germans give their account of the transition from Communism to Capitalism.
This is highly recommended because the author listens and with her subjects tries to make sense of a picture that is not necessarily black and white, but shades of grey and even colour. It is most insightful about loss, disconnection and disorientation.
The book provides a salutary reminder that much as the modern world- particularly the media when its coverage is superficial-like clean cuts and clean breaks, there is no one truth, but many truths and many interpretations. And that so-called “events”, however “historic”, are steps along the way, the build-up of unconscious and unforeseen forces, sometimes cohering, often competing.
As we continue to reach conclusions about being on the right or wrong side of history, I recall this piece of wisdom from one of our finest scholars. As the historian Asa Briggs and former Open University man told me last year, “History does not teach you anything. But historians might.”
Oh, and this is about the time when we journalists in newsrooms all got excited about “people power” before reality set in years later and we realised “regimes” can have good days and bad, but there is no substitute for a continuous nurturing of liberal democracy, respect for rule of law, human rights, freedom of expression and free and properly organised political parties. Contrast the Arab Spring with where we are now…
I was reminded of that day in November, 1989, working as a producer on the BBC Nine O’Clock News, liasing with our top correspondent the late Brian Hanrahan. Six years later I was proud to have him as one of my presenters on BBC World’s Newsdesk programme as he and other presenters such as Nik Gowing and Tim Sebastian pioneered the BBC’s 24-hour live television news.
No journalism of attachment, Brian told me again and again, only telling it as it is with a critical and sceptical eye. This was Brian’s 10th anniversary account of the Fall of the Berlin Wall: