German Reunification @30: “Never stop believing in the impossible”

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30 years on, the Reunification of East and West Germany holds out hope for impossible causes. That is only one reason it is important to remember.

Photo: German Consul General to Hong Kong and Macau, Dieter Lamlé.

This is Part I of a four-part series from an interview with Dieter Lamlé, the Consul General of the Federal Republic of Germany to Hong Kong and Macau, on the occasion of the 30th Anniversary of German Reunification. You can listen to the interview with Mr Lamlé in the podcast player below.

Parts II, III, and IV of this series available to read now.

A young Dieter Lamlé, a novice diplomat playing the role of Ambassador in a small African nation received a mystifying call in the night – from his host country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Rwanda, his host country, was not yet aflame with war but a night time call is rarely good news.

In his words, 30 years on, the German Consul General to Hong Kong and Macau describes that fateful day:

Herr Lamlé: “Suddenly, a colleague of the Rwandese Foreign Ministry called me and said ‘Congratulations!’ I said, ‘What for?’”

‘Congratulations! The Wall is down in Berlin!’

I said, ‘OK…Thank you very much for the information.’ and I thought ‘What is he telling me?!’

I didn’t believe him. I didn’t believe him. So I called immediately to Bonn and said, ‘Hey, what’s going on?!’ And they told me. ‘Yes! Everything has changed!’”

One special moment

Young Herr Lamlé was appointed Deputy Ambassador to Kigali for his first posting. Even with a 6:00 PM curfew in effect on account of far off skirmishes in the early days of the Rwandan Civil War, he managed to meet another young German, fall in love and start a family. And with the Ambassador taken sick, he was commanding the post when the Wall fell. 

While the photo and video of that era make it seem like every German flocked to the Wall that day, that was, of course, impossible. It was a city apart from the free world, surrounded by the Communist Soviet Union. Like Herr Lamlé and the 500 or so Germans in Kigali at the time, they experienced it through the video we see today. But the Germans in Rwanda would have to wait.

Herr Lamlé: “There, the fall of the Berlin Wall was the 9th of November and we had no television, almost no radio, no internet, no communication. And, of course, we had no idea what was going on in Germany because this was such a surprise that the Wall was going to fall and I was not on the phone with Bonn at the time… I asked them to send me a video as quickly as possible with pictures of the television… Then, 3 days later, I made a film evening in the Embassy. You can’t imagine. Everyone was very close to tears. It was a very emotional evening. One of the most emotional I have ever had in my life.”

Everything really had started changing

A young diplomat had thought he was going to spend his career rotating between Bonn and foreign posting instead found his home base in Berlin. But in him, something had already changed.

Herr Lamlé’s family had a special tie to East Germany that they had lost, but his generation considered it a lost nation. “Nobody believed that the unification of Germany would happen. I remember very well. My mother comes from East Germany and she left before the Wall was built in 1961.

But of course, as a young man, you discuss with your parents and I said, “Come on – what are you talking about? This is never going to happen.”

And she, being East German, said, “Well, you might be right, but I don’t lose hope.”

As it turned out, the younger generation that grew up with East Germany and the Soviet Union as an immutable fact did not have it right. For Herr Lamlé, his realisation of his mother’s impossible dream changed something in his heart.

This is very important for young people – for everybody in principle, but also for young people – never stop believing in the impossible.

Dieter lamlé

The German Optimist: “Never stop believing”

In Herr Lamlé’s words: “It is important to never stop believing in the impossible. I really became an optimist during this time.

Nobody on the 9th of November nobody was expecting how the evening would end. It was not predictable.

This is very important for young people – for everybody in principle, but also for young people – never stop believing in the impossible. Because it might get possible. And we have, always a big ‘possible’.

In politics, we have this big situation where you think, “This is not going to move.” Someday…it moves. Or it can move. If you have patience, if you have the engagement of people. This you need. You need heart and people together. If you don’t do anything, nothing changes. This is very clear.

I am very convinced that every problem can find a solution. Also, on the political side, it takes some time. It takes good persons working on it – and then – look how the world has changed! Who would have believed that the Soviet Union would have disappeared?”

Why remember?

Now, Herr Lamlé reminds his children that even they must remember: “My children say to me now, ‘Why is it so important for you? It’s over. Don’t think about it. It’s over. Who cares?’”

25 years later, he was the Chief of Protocol for Berlin and tasked with organising the 25th year remembrances.

“In these 9 years of Berlin time before coming to Hong Kong, for three years I was the Chief of Protocol for Berlin. In 2014 when we celebrated 25 years of the fall of the Wall, I was responsible for all of the events (with my team, of course) in Berlin and we decided to build up the Wall again, virtually, with illuminated globes and balloons.”

“So we had 15.2 km of virtual border. 8,000 balloons. And a lot of people coming for this week and to Berlin and see where the Wall was, to contemplate, and to remember.”

Christopher and Mark Bauder, brothers and artists, contemplated an alien presence stretching across Berlin to show those too young to remember where the Wall was, where it divided one people. Individuals sponsored balloons on individual 6 foot high stands bearing their personal messages about what the Fall of the Wall meant to them. The Lichtgrenze was alien, yet intensely personal and accessible to all Berliners.

The question remained of what to do with the balloons at the exact moment of deliverance, 25 years later. 

“After long discussions, we decided we would make it very silent. So it just happened. Suddenly, 8,000 balloons went into the air.”

“This was the second moment when the unification was very close to me.”

The first moment was, of course, when he knew the Wall was down and his children would grow up in a world with a Germany healed, brought together in a final triumph over tyranny. On November 9th, 1989, his world, and that of all Germans changed its trajectory forever.

Reunification continues today. Part II: German Reunification @30, Human Rights and Hong Kong out now.

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