A Story About the Berlin Wall

I came across a fact this week concerning the fall of The Berlin Wall.

I have always found the history of the reunification of East and West Germany fascinating (in German, Wiedervereinigung – one of my favourite words). The process heralded the end of Cold War, a period characterised by fear of mutual destruction by two nuclear powers, and marked the beginning of a decade of peacetime which carried on until the 11th September attacks in 2001.

The the fall of the Berlin Wall came about following a press conference hosted by Politburo member called Günter Shabowski, who was to announce new travel regulations in and out of East Germany.

It seems he wasn’t very adequately briefed, and, (presumably due to the nature of the news reporting in the authoritarian GDR) was unaccustomed to the level of journalist questioning at a televised press conference, and when pressed for more information he accidentally announced total free movement in and out of East Germany “from today […] immediately. Without delay.”

East Germans had previously gone to extreme lengths to cross the border, as displayed in Berlin’s Checkpoint Charlie museum. Examples include using a makeshift hot-air balloon, and hollowing out car fuel tanks to be smuggled across. When they heard the announcement that the restriction of movement was lifted, they made their way in huge numbers the crossing points, demanding to be allowed passage. The guards were peacefully overwhelmed, themselves confused by the new information, and eventually opened the border to allow people through.

And so, the Berlin Wall, formerly a symbol of restriction and fear, was torn down and became an icon of freedom and unity. The catalyst that triggered the end of the Cold War came about as the result of a flustered man getting a bit carried away at a press conference.

This story puts me in mind of a concept used by Steve of Nerd Fitness called “20 seconds of insane courage”. The basic idea is that the first 20 seconds is all that is needed to make a major change.

It’s a really encouraging idea, that all you need to worry about is getting started, and the rest will fall into place, that it all starts with that first step. When you push that idea further, it can be applied to our attitude to worries over the long term, the message being, just take care of today, and worry about tomorrow when it comes.

This is an important concept to hold on to for people working in the performing arts (and I’m sure, many other fields of work, particularly self-employed people, and free-lancers). You can’t do tomorrow’s work today, so don’t let it overwhelm you.

Most of all, what I love about the Berlin Wall story, is that it wasn’t really a tale of courage, more of a blunder, but that blunder lead to one of the most momentous moments of modern history. All because one man got flustered at a press conference. How reassuring that you don’t always have to be absolutely of top of your shit for great things to happen. Sometimes, they happen even when you feel well out of your depth.

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