On Friday, November 10, I woke up and turned on the TV. What was just becoming clear when I had gone to bed the night before was confirmed overnight: a big party had started just before midnight and gone on all night. The floodgates were open. History was grinding away right in front of me. Not a shot had been fired! After breakfast, I decided that I wanted to visit Berlin over the weekend. I'd spent the last year studying the West German system, I loved history, and this was not a moment to remain in front of the TV with events going on nearby. A true doubting Thomas, I wanted to stick my fingers in the freshly-cut holes in the wall, the fatal wounds to the communist system that would cause it to bleed to death. I called a German friend of mine whom I had met in France. He was studying in Mannheim. I told him of my plan, and he was interested in going, too. Better yet, he had a car, and I didn't. The only problem: he had commitments until late Saturday night. The earliest that he could pick me up was shortly after midnight Sunday morning. After some hesitation, I agreed. Even a short visit was better than none. It would be an all-nighter -- two all-nighters, actually.
On my way to work in Frankfurt, I observed the Germans carefully to see if there were any signs of the momentous events that had taken place over night. In America, I would have expected signs of celebration or elation, strangers talking to one another. On the contrary, things were actually quieter than normal. One almost sensed that the people were in shock. Even at the small firm where I work, the level of excitement was much lower than I had expected among my German colleagues. I announced my intention to travel to Berlin over the weekend. My German colleagues showed little interest in my planned adventure. They did not say anything negative, but seemed surprised that a foreigner would be interested in these kinds of events. Even Frau Bloggerboy and her family seemed impressed but not overly-excited by the events. I could feel the enthusiasm and the party in Berlin, but not in Frankfurt.
There have been several instances since I moved to Germany when I've been puzzled by the unemotional reaction of Germans to events that would cause wild excitement among other peoples. I think many educated Germans had trained themselves to maintain a high degree of self-control. I can only speculate about the deep psychological effects of living in a defeated and divided country after a shameful chapter of its history. I can understand that, after so many defeats and disappointments, Germans were not willing to drop the reserve and self-restraint that had served them well during the post-war period to allow euphoria and, possibly, excess, to get the upper hand. (This does not explain the anarchic strains of the Sixties or the RAF violence, but then I think those events also left a bitter aftertaste among many Germans. Even some of the former activists have expressed regret over their prior behavior -- e.g., former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer's prior life as a street-fighting, police-beating, leftist radical.) On the other hand, many Germans had given up hope that Germany would ever be reunited. On the far left, some actively hoped that reunification would never take place, unless on DDR terms. Even many SPD leaders opposed the concept of reunification. Oscar Lafontaine and Gerhard Schröder both opposed reunification at the beginning. Very few people were talking about reunification on November 9 or 10. I know, however, from my study program and from my German friend in Mannheim, who was politically active, that talk of reunification was going on at the highest echelons during much of 1989, not with a timeframe in mind, but simply as a stated goal. And Helmut Kohl, the "bumbling hick" from Rheinland-Pfalz (with a doctorate in history), who had left his condescending opponents in the dust so many times, was thinking of reunification, had been thinking about it for a long time, and was wide awake and, in a very unassuming manner, considering his options.