25 years ago today, the preparations for the reunification were on their way. Apart from all the contracts and signatures and official stuff, all along the border, festivities were planned. Tents, music, speeches, food, beer. That's the way Germans celebrate, right?
Eleven months earlier, the border had fallen. It was something nobody had expected, no pundit, no citizen, not days before it actually happened, maybe not even hours. It was a complete surprise.
I grew up at the inner-German border and for us, it used to be the end of the world. Yes, there was a Germany on the other side but it was in perpetual darkness, unreachable in any way. You didn't step too close to the border lines, either - the guards with their machine guns sure were threatening. There was always a sense of danger. We lived within a kilometer of the border. When the wall fell, and the border came down, it was more than a little overwhelming.
You know those German crowds welcoming the refugees? We were those crowds back then, welcoming our other Germans. We took people in, we fed them, we gave away whatever was needed. We gave out welcome money, the traditional 100 Mark that every East German got when they came to visit. In the years since 1949, not many came to claim that money. In the weeks and months after the border came down, it was thousands. Tens of thousands. Hundreds of thousands. Every volunteer was needed to fill out papers, and hand out the welcome money. So much money, and then they went and bought bananas, and chocolate, and whatever their heart desired. So much did they buy, it was the first time ever I saw empty shelves in the supermarket of my hometown. And we were happy.
A few weeks later, the visa requirements for West Germans were revoked and we were free to visit the Eastern part of Germany for the first time.
This is what we found. Signs upon signs welcoming us to their towns. Every city, every village had signs up for us. And you know what else? Every Bratwurst stand gave West Germans sausages for free. As a thank you. And when we thanked them, they smiled and poured mulled wine for us, as well.
26 years later, that still brings tears to my eyes.
Happy 25th anniversary, my country. I wished I could be there with you on Saturday. Party well. Party hard. Enjoy.