Subdued Tone at German History's Gate
Richard A. Nenneman. Richard A. Nenneman is the Monitor's editor-in-chief., The Christian Science Monitor
BERLIN - It is 10:30 p.m. With German friends, we've parked as close to the Reichstag as we can. We walk the rest of the way through the cool autumn night.
Earlier in the evening, my wife and I had been their guests at the Cecilienhof in Potsdam, eating in the same room where Truman, Churchill, and Stalin had dined during the Potsdam Conference in July 1945. Potsdam lies only ten minutes away from some of Berlin's poshest areas, but it has also been East Germany territory. Until Nov. 9 last year, it was not a visit a West Berliner could spontaneously make. As we got into the car after dinner, an almost full moon had risen in a clear sky, and the dew was already heavy on the car.
Now, as we join thousands of others trudging through this chill autumn night, I remind myself why I wanted to be here. Still a teenager when World War II ended, my adult life has been lived within a world view fixed by that war and its successor, the cold war.
No human epoch lasts forever. But until 1989 no one imagined how fast change would come. The reunification of Germany is the occasion for this walk tonight, but it's the passing of an era I need to celebrate with these friends.
Meanwhile, history speaks wherever one looks. We pass the Victory Monument - a heavy golden angel erected at the center of the Tiergarten to commemorate the German victory over France in 1870. We now move in what seems like an army of people up the Avenue of June 17, named for the failed East German uprising in 1953. That brings to mind the inherent love of freedom that lies in us all. But the immense Central Park scale of the Tiergarten, with this very avenue leading up to Unter den Linden on the other side of the Brandenburg Gate, also recalls the parades of Hitler's troops during Germany's darkest period. No nation can remake its history; it can only learn from it.
Ahead of us, lit by powerful lights, lie the six columns of the Brandenburg Gate - a symbol of the German nation, the best known border of East and West Berlin.
We turn and walk as far as we can go to the stand before the restored Reichstag, whose burning in 1933 symbolized the consolidation of Hitler's grip on Germany. It is now 11:15; we wait. Here and there people wave the black, red, and gold German flag. …