This story was told to me by Horst one Friday morning, November 9th, when I was the only one who showed up for class. Horst was a professor of mine when I studied abroad in Germany. He is quite tall, probably 200 pounds, dark hair, dark eyes, olive skin, has an air about him like he may have been a former military officer. He is full of conspiracies, and when I knew him he was in the process of building a bicycle-powered wood-chopper for his cottage in the event of a crisis-level power failure. He carries around first editions of 17th century books, his finger marking the page.
In this particular class, we went through some of my questions about grammar, such as “Ob…?” implicit questions and how one uses Intentionalpartikeln such as doch, bloß, mal, etc. Then he said that he thought that today we would work on hearing comprehension, he would tell me a story and I should take notes, and then I could write something up and we could see how I did. So he told me this story.
If you are a particularly acute student of history—as Horst was—you might recognize the date on which he told me this story as a significant one. November 9th is the date the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.
Horst was 26 at the time; he had grown up his entire life in East Germany, behind the Wall.
How does this apply to the Korean situation? After all, we can’t predict the future of Korean relations even a year ahead. Still, the historical precedent of German unification is an oft-used way to move toward a better guess about Korean unification. Though the differences between the two cases are many, and too significant to allow a tenable prediction about Korea to be made, it’s my thought that where a rigorous analysis might fail, a story might offer insight and a new way of understanding.
The Berlin Wall went up in 1961. Horst was born in 1963. He spoke in German, but I’ll give the story in English.
* * * * *
“I will tell you the real story, the one that you don’t hear on the radio or, you know? I have really lived through this, I have heard it, with my own ears! Also. I can remember, November 9th was a Thursday, and no body knew that anything unusual would happen. And around 17:30 there was a press conference with Günter Schabowski. Krack was the mayor, and Schabowski was the Head Official, or something, I forgot what his title was. But that is not important. So yes, he was at the press conference and he announced that traffic would be opened and the citizens would be able to travel wherever they wanted. A journalist raised his hand and asked, When? Schabowski said . . .
“Ja,” I said, and Horst stopped. “Right, I’ve heard this before. The journalist asked when the wall would be opened and Schabowski, he didn’t really know, did he? He had . . . it was a memo, memorandum, and the memo was meant to be the next day, but it didn’t say and Schabowski assumed that it meant today.”
Horst smiled. “Ah, yes, that is what he said, eh? You are right. Yes, he looked at the note and then said,” he adopted a deep serious voice and quoted [Horst is a consummate actor]: “I assume sofort, immediately.” He suddenly switched to an entirely new story. “How I know this, I should tell you, is two years after, I was at a party with Günter Schabowski, and many journalists and politicians. I drank vodka with him, from his Russian wife,” he said, gesturing over his right shoulder to where Russia might be.
He settled into his seat on the edge of a desk and continued his story. “Now, on Thursday evening there was an American radio station, paid for by the CIA, that nevertheless always had high-quality music, modern, and good programming. I was listening to this radio and reading a book, so not really listening, eh, one hears it and it . . .” he made a pointing motion toward his ear and then through his head, “. . . yeah?” I nodded in agreement. “So I heard something and I just kept reading, until around 21:00 there was a knocking on my door. I had an Italian girlfriend, she was named Sabina. So there were 5 or 6 Italians at my door very very excited and they were yelling, ‘The Wall, it is down! We must go to West Berlin!’ You don’t have to write this part down, you know, this is just . . . just . . . “
“Right,” I said.
“OK. But yes, if you want to, go ahead, for . . . Yes. And I asked, ‘How do you know this’ and they said, ‘We heard it from a man on the S-Bahn [the Berlin subway]’. Hahahaha! From a man on the S-Bahn. I laughed, just like this, and I said ‘How long have you been in Berlin?’ They were studying there and had been there once before, and now again for two months, and I knew, there is no way the Wall is down! These silly Italians! Hahahaha!” I joined weakly in this exuberant mirth. “And I told them this! You hear all sorts of things on the S-Bahn, and I—I was born in 1963, so we just assumed the Wall would always be there. I told them the wall is not down, with authority, such authority, that they believed it and they went home to go to sleep!”
The night of the collapse of the Berlin Wall, and Horst would not believe that it was happening.
Who in South or North Korea would believe it if he heard that the DMZ was accepting thru-traffic? It seems so unlikely as to be nearly impossible, but so did the opening of the Berlin Wall to those behind it.
The story will be continued in Part 2.