November 9th – On this day …

    Thoughts on November 9th … It is now 31 years after the #FalloftheWall – and I will never forget my own story, as I was there, when the wall came down.

    So much hope & joy were shared on that day in Berlin and around the world. The spontaneous city-wide party went on for days and only slowly the difficult tasks of a new reality settled in. Those were crazy days, as change happened so fast – and I remember very well, that I was often thinking, it was maybe too fast. Many careful voices – especially the ones of the original freedom movement in East Germany –  were silenced by the overwhelming heavy momentum of promises of “milk & honey”.

    on the wall, 1989
       on the wall, 1989

    The current celebrations of Democrats happening in many cities in the USA – 5 days after the election day – these celebrations have a similar quality of hope & joy like in Berlin in 1989. It is a moment of liberation from a dark time; a time, when people are relieved from a long time of hardship and one becomes certain in that moment, that change happened – one way or another – and there will be no going back into THIS type of dark times anymore.

    The relief around the world has been very loud. No wonder, as the “orange man” has not only been the worst US president ever, but also a terrible nightmare for 100s of Millions around the world; for parents, trying to teach their children, that respect and decency matters; teachers, who tried to educate about tolerance and that being a bully is a bad thing; leaders of international organisations, who work on cooperation and shared responsibility on this one planet …

    The list can go on much more – but it is clear, the we all are relieved. That we finally can breath again (!) as we do not have to bear a daily flood of at least 15 terrible twitter messages, containing 20 lies, fake news, degrading comments, narcissistic behavior … well, also this list is too long. It is just good that these 4 years have ended.

    (that “the fight for democracy” is far from over – also in Europe – is another story)

    Today, we can celebrate.


    But today, #weremember, too. We remember the night of November 9th, 1938. The Kristallnacht can not be forgotten, as it was a night of destruction of synagogues, shops and lives – a staged uprising by willing bully mobs, organised from the governing Nazi party against fellow German citizens, whose only crime was their religious affiliation. Neighbours and friends, living since many generations inside the same society, fighting side by side in the first world war until 1918.

    memorial corner of resistance fighters in church in Berlin

    Exactly 20 years earlier – on November 9th, 1918 – the first German Republic, were proclaimed and it was immediately under attack by polarizing forces from right and left. But it were the ultra-conservatives, the right populists and nationalists, who helped the Nazis take power in 1933, purposely assisting the dismantling of a democratic society leading to 80 Millions deaths 12 years later.

    November 9th in Germany is a day, where joy and pain, hope and suffering are very close to each other – a day, when we must understand the importance of remembrance and humility before history (which is why on this day, Stolpersteine will be cleaned and polished.)

    On this day we however also remember the moments of relief and change and can carry it into positive and optimistic work for tolerant and humane societies – for balancing polarising differences – for supporting the irreplaceable value of true democracies.

    Corona is not over, as is not the Climate Crisis. The dividing gaps in societies in the USA, Europe and other countries around the world are still increasing – for a large part fired up by social media – but we have to hold on to the moments of joy to keep the optimism and hope.

    I often wondered, why people were not able to remember the unique feelings of pure happiness from this cold evening & night in November 1989, but I understood that this is a quality, one has to actively learn: to hold on to good memories – especially when the surrounding reality is dark and bleak. It is not easy, but it can be very helpful and sometimes it is a question of survival.

    Like the character Guido in the movie “Life is beautiful”  shows, this can seem to be an impossible act of willpower – but every lawyer born in a ghetto, every former refugee-becoming a doctor, every person, who overcame some deep depression proves, that is is possible.

    In the words of Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl:

    “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

    On November 9th, I always light a candle, symbolising all of the above: remembrance and hope.


    (This article was first published on Medium on 2020-11-09)