Twenty years ago today I was in Berlin when the wall came down.
I was working with Sky News at the time.
But how I came to be there, chipping away at the graffiti covered structure with stolen British Airways cutlery as the Police looked on, is a tale worth telling.
The previous night I was in my Edinburgh flat with housemate Simon and his delightful girlfriend Dominique watching events unfold on the TV News. We all wished we were there…after all it was the first bit of real history that had happened in our short lives which was accessible and effectively only a couple of hours away.
Suddenly my Sky boss rang. “This is history. We should be there,” he said. And so we set about booking flights for the next morning. Simon and Dominique- caught up in the drama, announced they wanted to come as well.
And so bleary eyed we spent much of the next day making our way to Berlin. We had to fly from Edinburgh to Heathrow, and then to Cologne and then on to the city in the global spotlight.
I had a brush with celebrity on the London Cologne flight. Prog rock genius Rick Wakeman was sitting next to me. He was astonished that effectively on a whim we had decided to go to Berlin. “I don’t suppose you fancy playing keyboards with Yes* in Cologne tonight do you?” he inquired with a twinkle in his eye “and I’ll go to the wall.”
No deal. And so late afternoon we arrived in Berlin and were dumped by taxi in the city centre. None of us had ever been there before. Where was the wall? We needn’t have worried. We just followed the crowds.
It was a long walk, but an unforgettable one. Something had changed. You could sense it in the air.
We eventually arrived. The atmosphere was crackling with tension. The previous night TV cameras had broadcast images of thousands of people standing on the wall itself. Tonight there would be no repeat. A fleet of police vans separated the crowds from scaling the battered structure. A stand-off continued for hours. We carried on walking along the wall and eventually, away from the TV arc lights, managed to find an area where we could touch the iconic wall. People were hacking away at it and pocketing graffiti covered chunks. The stolen BA cutlery came in handy and I chipped off three small pieces. A terrific feeling of being part of something much much bigger overwhelmed us all. How could we mark this historic moment? Time for a pint.
And so we partied until dawn. West Berlin was heaving. Thousands had come across from the East side. But they had little or no money and no accommodation. All they could do was wallow in the capitalist excess in the shop windows before sheepishly going back home again. So near and yet so far.
We took the tube train at some stage in the evening little knowing that it’s route crisscrossed East and West Berlin. We stopped at a bleak grey station bereft of any advertising or gaudy billboards on the east side and tried to get up to street level. Not possible. There were soldiers there. So back on the train we went and hot footed it back to the comfort of West Berlin.
We didn’t book hotel rooms , we just fell asleep where we could. I have vague memories of a deep leather seat in a hotel lounge.
It was a fantastic 24 hours. A heady mix of mayhem, excitement and confusion with a big dollop of history thrown in for good measure. And we wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
Did I do any work? No. But I did offer….
* = erm…nearly, but not quite. See comment below. Apologies.