Twenty years ago today —9 November 1989— the German Democratic Republic finally read the writing on the wall (literally and figuratively) and announced that open travel would be permitted between East and West Berlin and East and West Germany.
This was the beginning of the end — the implosion/disintegration/collapse of communism. Depending on how you look at it, this was either an apotheosis of freedom or “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century”.
The move to commemorate November 9th by making it a national holiday was bolstered by the fact that the first German —Weimar— Republic had been declared on 9 November 1918. However, 9 November was also shared by Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch in 1923 and the 1938 Kristallnacht. And that’s why Unity Day is now celebrated on October 3rd — when the formal union was declared in 1990.
It was November 9th, however, that inspired Klaus Meine, lead singer of Scorpions —a Hanover-based heavy metal band— to write “Wind of Change.” Considered to be the song of national unification, it was recently chosen by German TV viewers as the song of the century. It’s the biggest selling song in German history. The Number One hit in Germany and much of Europe, it reached #4 here in the USA.
The band had performed in Moscow a few months earlier when it was already clear that something big could be about to happen. The lyrics describe what they saw as they walked through the evil imperial capital that night: “I follow the Moskva/down to Gorky Park/listening to the wind of change.”
Of course the Scorpions weren’t alone in commemorating the November 9th moment. A few weeks later, on Christmas Day, Leonard Bernstein conducted an orchestra of musicians from East and West Germany in an Ode to Freedom— a performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony (in honor of the occasion the Maestro modestly redirected Schiller’s classic Ode from Freude to Freiheit).