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 a period characterised by fear of mutual destruction by two alliances of nuclear powers, and marked the beginning of a decade of relatively widespread peace (regional conflicts notwithstanding), which carried on until the attacks on 11th September 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 Western level of journalist questioning at a televised press conference, because when pressed for more information on when the regulations changes would take effect, he replied “from today […] immediately. Without delay.” Out of his depth, under a relatively small amount of journalistic scrutiny, he inadvertently announced total free movement in and out of East Germany.
The change was momentous. East Germans had previously gone to extreme lengths to cross the border, as demonstrated in Berlin’s fantastic Checkpoint Charlie museum. Ossies (as they were known) tried all kinds of tactics to cross over into the ‘free world,’ including a makeshift hot-air balloon, and hollowing out car fuel tanks to hide in and whilst being smuggled across. Escape attempts even cost some people their lives, the majority of whom were shot by East German border guards.
When the announcement was published that the restriction of movement was to be lifted immediately, Germans from both sides made their way in huge numbers the crossing points. The guards were overwhelmed, themselves confused by the new information, and eventually opened the border to allow people through with no restrictions.
And so began the process that would lead to the fall of the Soviet Union, and the end of the Cold War. The Berlin Wall, an ideological symbol the separation between East and West would be torn down, with only small remnants left standing as a symbol of the triumph of freedom and unity over hostility and division. The catalyst that triggered the end of the Cold War came about as the result of a man getting a bit carried away at a press conference.
This story reminded me of a concept I learnt about from Steve at 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. All you need to worry about is getting started, and then tackle any challenges that arise as you go along. You will find that things generally fall into place. It all starts with that first step. Taking the idea further, it can be applied to our attitudes towards longer-term worries and concerns. The message is simple, 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’s really a tale of courage, more of a blunder. A blunder lead to one of the most momentous moments of recent history. The world changed that day, all because one man got flustered at a press conference. How reassuring that you don’t always have to be completely on top of things for great outcomes to follow. Sometimes, they happen even when you feel well out of your depth. So my encouragement to you, in the light of poor Günter’s blunder – have courage!