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Divisions fade in Germany

Berlin, Nov. 8: The Quiz of the Germans, a lighthearted entry amid a crush of serious examinations of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, pitted three West German celebrities seated behind the sloping hood of an old Volkswagen Beetle against counterparts from the East perched above the front of a clunky Trabant.

On a television stage emblazoned with an oversize map of unified Germany, the questions about the divided old days were as symmetrical as the antique cars. The topics struck a note of shared Germanness that endured even at the peak of the cold war. The anniversary tomorrow has prompted a powerful national conversation, not just about a moment two decades ago, but about Germany today. It is more united and less turbulent than many here or abroad expected and, given its 20th century history, than many thought it deserved to be. Especially among the young, there is the sense that the aspiration to transcend Germany’s dark history and simply become normal may finally be within reach.

The latest round of news media accounts on the tumultuous final hours of the wall have emphasised not some sense of historical inevitability driven by economics and geopolitics, but rather the capricious human side of the event. That is reflected in last week’s cover story in the magazine Der Spiegel, which meticulously reconstructed, hour by hour, the events of the day that built up to the wall’s unexpected opening, titled “The Error That Led to Unity.”

Bureaucratic confusion over new travel regulations led crowds of East Berliners to gather at border checkpoints on November 9, 1989, prompting guards to open the gates, bringing a sudden end to the division of the city with a night of spontaneous celebration and reunion.Beneath the trivial differences lies a country more unified than anyone expected.

But the fading divisions between the sides are most apparent among those with no memories of the wall or the German Democratic Republic, the generation born after 1989. “For people from our generation, it’s just a part of German history,” said Sebastian Melchior, 19, a student. “For us this division doesn’t really exist anymore.”

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