View across the Outer Harbour of Stornoway

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Sunday 3 October

Fairly bright this morning, but with some showers and wind about. Not warm at all, the northeasterly making the 12C feel decidedly cool.

Today is the 20th anniversary of the reunification of Germany, which brought to a close more than seventy years of upheaval in the country. After the end of the First World War, Germany was pointed out as the sole culprit for the bloody conflagration, which was not a fair assertion. WW1 was a powderkeg, carefully assembled by the combatants United Kingdom, France, Austra-Hungary, Russia, Germany and their allies over the years between 1905 and 1914.

In the Treaty of Versailles, signed in June 1919, Germany had crippling reparations imposed upon it, which were whittled down considerably over the years. They served to wreck the German economy, and coupled with the economic depression of the 1930s, allowed Adolf Hitler to rise to the fore with a promise to make Germany great again. World War II is held by many to be a direct consequence of the Treaty of Versailles, and by implication the result of the vindictiveness of the victorious Allies.

That error was fortunately not repeated at the end of WW2. However, the division of Europe came in the wake of the Second World War, with the Berlin Wall (erected in 1961) being the most visible manifestation of that. The Wall did not just part Berlin, it also ran along the border between East and West Germany. Anyone trying to cross the boundary line without authorisation was liable to be shot dead on sight - a fate that befell several hundred people.

Communism imploded in Europe in the late 1980s, with the advent of Michail Gorbachev in the USSR and Karol Wojtyla as Pope John Paul II. On November 9th, 1989, the people of East Germany tore down the Berlin Wall and crossed into West Germany without proper authority. The armed forces stood by and did not interfere. Germany was reunified within a year, on 3rd October 1990, bringing not just liberty to its eastern Länder, but also a large economic burden to the western part of the country.

Although the Fall of the Wall took place on November 9th, this date was not adopted as the date of commemoration. On 9 November 1938, nationwide pogroms (or anti-Jewish raids) were held across Germany, which came to be known as the Night of Broken Glass, or Kristallnacht. I shall remember that night of infamy on 9 November this year (as I always do), and be thankful that much has changed in the 72 years since.