German unification: 20 years onOctober 4, 2010
I spent most of my weekend in or travelling to and from Bremen. The PM had asked me to represent the UK at the 20th anniversary celebrations of German unification. It was a duty I was happy to accept because I have vivid personal memories of that time.
Back in 1989-1990, I was working for the then Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd. I remember the Berlin Wall , which had so shocked me on my first, schoolboy, visit to the city, being literally torn apart by ordinary people. I remember the telegrams coming in daily from our ambassadors in central and eastern Europe and picking up the sense of wonder among even the most experienced and worldly-wise diplomats at what was happening. And I recall going to Leipzig to meet East Germany’s opposition groups and going back to Berlin for the final days of East Germany’s first and last free election. In Britain so often we take for granted such things as democracy, human rights and freedom of opinion. When you meet people who have been denied those things for years, even generations, you appreciate a bit better the value of our political and constitutional freedoms.
Twenty years on, I still believe that the “velvet revolutions” in central and eastern Europe and the unification of a free Germany were the best things in international affairs to have happened in my lifetime.
The ceremony itself was brief (about an hour) but moving. There was music, drama from a Bremen-based youth theatre group, and speeches by the Federal President and the Minister-President of the Bremen regional government.
For me, the most emotional part of the ceremony was a performance of the finale from “Fidelio”. Beethoven’s opera, with its tale of how oppression is over come by freedom, darkness by light and cruelty by love never ceases to encourage and inspire. It truly fitted the occasion.