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Cold war

18/05/2013

Tonight Matthias Reim’s now nearly 25-year-old song Verdammt ich lieb’ dich was played on the sound system in a bar where I was happened to be. It will always be associated in my mind with the ‘breaking news’ that the infamous Berlin Wall had opened on 9 November 1989 – something I’d never expected to experience in my lifetime. Pictures of ecstatic and tearful East Germans pouring through the once hermetically sealed checkpoints in their rickety Trabant cars or simply on foot had flooded the Western (and perhaps even Eastern) media that evening, and Dutch TV’s late-night current affairs programme had been entirely devoted to perhaps the most historic event since the moon landing twenty years earlier. Instead of its usual theme tune, the programme signed off with the German pop hit of the year I love you, damn it! – ironically echoed four days later in the nauseatingly hypocritical cry by the now publicly discredited East German secret police chief Erich Mielke in front of his own parliament that he ‘really loved all human beings’ – ich liebe doch alle Menschen! His audience burst out in mocking laughter at this grotesque parody of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy.

Strange how certain songs remain attached in our memories to specific events in our lives – and how inaccurately. For now that I look up the details of the song on the Internet, I find that it wasn’t published until April 1990 – a full five months after the Berlin Wall opened. So I can’t possibly have heard it as the incredible news was flooding in and I was zapping from one European channel to the next to see if it was all really true. And yet, in my mind, it’s indelibly associated with that joyful night. A false but wonderful memory.

So I now also begin to doubt my memory of the song I’m sure I heard on a loudspeaker as I walked up a staircase seconds after my stepbrother Ian’s faltering voice told me that my father – admitted to hospital for observation just as I was setting off to work in Switzerland – ‘wasn’t going to make it’ and there was no chance I would see him alive again. The song, by a then unknown French-Canadian singer who would later become an overrated superstar, had won the Eurovision Song Contest for Switzerland the previous year. Perhaps appropriately, it was called Ne partez pas sans moi – ‘Don’t go without me’. And whenever I hear it I’m carried back to that day in early May 1989, just six months before the Berlin Wall unexpectedly came down – something my dad never experienced. So he must have gone to his grave thinking – just as I had – that the Cold War, with all its horrific certainties, would go on forever and ever.

How I wish I could tell him it’s all over, for I know it would have pleased him. We didn’t agree on much – we had our own cold war – but on this we would have seen eye to eye.

Verdammt ich lieb’ dich.

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From → Politics, Society

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