Wednesday, November 11, 2009

the Berlin Wall

i'd been excited for weeks about the celebrations for the 20th anniversary of Berlin Wall coming down, particularly for the long line of 1000 giant blocks set to fall like dominoes to mark the occasion, because, come on...even without the exciting political history, giant dominoes are pretty cool to watch.

as the final moment drew closer and closer, however, and as the rain kept coming down, and my feet got more sore and wet until eventually they lost all feeling, and also as colin got sicker and sicker, the idea started to lose its novelty. it seemed like the speeches (by famous folks like Hilary Clinton, Gordon Brown, the president of Russia, obviously the Chancellor of Germany, and even a video conference from Obama) and the music (including Domingo) were going on for hours - which they were. plus this'd think that living in the Netherlands i'd be used to it, but there was a particular cold bite to the Berlin rain that was especially disheartening when you had no chance of shelter, one that soaked right through your skin and made you feel like you'd never warm up again.

and then finally the speeches were over, and the domino walls came down.

i watched everyone around me celebrating, people coming in from all over the world, britain, france, russia, canada, poland, america, all cheering wildly. it was an amazing moment. you know, i could try as hard as i can, but i think none of us but the Germans will ever completely understand how November 9, 1989 must have felt for the people of Germany. to be divided and living as two peoples and then to suddenly have that gone. we watch the BBC footage of young people dancing on the wall and people flooding through the gates east to west, and we feel some of the excitement, but to be there, to have lived with and after the wall...that feeling i think is something that cannot be replicated by media or stories or anniversary celebrations.

can i tell you a silly secret? my secret dream is to one day see North Korea. i don't need to go there (i can't), but i would like to just get a glimpse of this forbidden land that where my roots lie. it's been so long, and south koreans don't even seem to want reunification anymore, and relations between the two Koreas have been deteriorating so much that sometimes i wonder if there is any hope at all. maybe i read too much Douglas Coupland, but some morbid part of me believes that one day we will wake up and North Korea is going to be gone, whether due to some unforeseen disaster or nuclear war or World War Z-like consequences. and even if one day that massive rift that is the DMZ does disappear, i think it will be too late to feel what the Germans felt twenty years ago, because everyone we knew and had any connections with will be long dead.

over half a century ago, both my mother's mother and my father's father traveled down to the south when the split happened, and found themselves on the wrong right side of a conflict that was not going to end, separated from their entire family and everything they had ever known in what is now North Korea. they were only eighteen years old. they have never seen or heard from their family since.

and that is why i want to see North Korea, even if it's just to stand on in a safe building along the DMZ. i want to look at where my ancestors came from, where i probably have cousins living a completely different life from me, family that we have never spoken to. and that is also why i found the events of the Berlin Wall so moving for me, because even if i cannot know how it felt to be a German when the countries reunified, i think i know what it feels like to want so badly for it to happen. i'm not sure if i'll ever be able to partake in the celebrations when, or if, it happens for Korea, so i was happy to share it with another country where this dream did come true.