Twenty years ago, when both my then-husband and I found ourselves cemented to our seats in front of our televisions, I was also a graduate student.
My German history professor, a beautiful, articulate, frighteningly intelligent woman put the Wall's coming down into perspective for me when she said, "Things happen in Germany on this day."
November 9, 1918: Kaiser Wilhelm II is forced to abdicate. Two days later, Armistice is signed.
November 9, 1938: Kristallnacht: The Night of Broken Glass. The Night of Pogroms. The Night of Terror.
While Americans like to celebrate November 9, 1989 as the end of the Cold War, because it makes us the heroes--and it's always already about us, isn't it?--some of us remember that the 9th of November is also a dark day in history.
It seems that some in Germany have not forgotten:
Anti-Semites sprayed swastikas on a new synagogue in Dresden, Germany, two days before ceremonies recalling the Nazi-era burning of 267 Jewish synagogues in the country 71 years ago on what is known as Kristallnacht. The term is the German word for the “night of broken glass.”
For many outside Germany, it's time to party like it's 1989. But inside the country, a more somber note will be struck.
In theory, then, Berlin should be the hottest place on the continent. In reality, many Germans will be staying at home — partly because they consider the night of November 9, 1989, to be a matter for private reflection, and partly because, until the Wall fell, this was a day of mourning and contrition.
On November 9, 1938, Nazis launched the Kristallnacht pogrom in which 1,400 synagogues and prayer rooms were set ablaze and hundreds of German Jews killed. That is the reason why November 9 was never declared a national holiday.
So no nationwide street parties, no ticker-tape parades, no triumphalism. The foreign visitors who have flocked to the capital — flights and hotels are almost completely booked up — will rave through the night in clubs that have slashed their prices, but the Germans are likely to be more muted. Newspapers call it a Day of German Destiny, by which they mean that bad things as well as good happened.
While I acknowledge the beauty of this anniversary for many, and encourage them to celebrate, I would also encourage those of us outside Germany to remember that this is also a somber day. In many ways, the Berlin Wall and Kristallnacht are inseparable.
While we, ourselves, confronted with a wave of hatred, race-baiting, anti-religious fervour, homophobia, misogyny, and levels of violence that are sickening, remember with joy those heady days of 1989, we must never, ever forget the terrifying day in 1938 that presaged an unimaginable horror.