It was Thursday, 9 November 1989, at 7.15 p.m. – I was forty and two thirds years old at the time – and I was in Paris, when I heard the bulletin on the French radio news; the East German government had decided to open the border between East and West from midnight that night.
Excellent, I thought. Things are moving at last. They’re finally going to get the basic right to freedom of movement. At last even the GDR is falling into line with the shift towards reform, democracy and liberalization which Gorbachev had sketched out, and which had already been taken up by Hungary and Poland with Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria soon to follow. People even dared hope that Romania, suffering under the most repulsive of the Eastern potentates, might one day go the same way. I switched off the radio and went out to eat. At that stage the world was still in order. I still understood a bit about global politics. Swift though the pace of change in Europe was, it seemed nevertheless perfectly reasonable and predictable, and I was still able to follow it. I still felt more or less on top of events.
That was no longer true when, a few hours later, I returned from my meal. I don’t remember whether it was before or after midnight – the ninth or the tenth, in other words – in any case, switching the radio on, this time to a German station, and arriving in the middle of a live broadcast from Berlin, where something akin to a carnival atmosphere seemed to have broken out, I heard an interview with the mayor of Berlin, Walter Momper, culminating with him declaring: ‘Tonight the people of Germany are the happiest people in the world.’