Géraldine Schwarz, France
Pink Floyd, The Wall
We Europeans have come a long way. Our memories and dreams are fragmented and sometimes contradictory, but within this diversity, there is a depth of shared experience. During a overnight coach journey to Berlin Géraldine Schwarz listens to the song The Wall by Pink Floyd.
It was June 1990 on an overnight coach journey to Berlin. The air was filled with murmurs and stifled laughter, which blended with the muffled hum of the engine. No one could sleep. Berlin! We, the Franco-German students of the Lycée International, were on our way to Berlin! I listened to Pink Floyd's The Wall on my Walkman, absorbing the sounds of a helicopter, a phone ringing endlessly, the piercing electric guitar and the incendiary words, "We don't need no education, we don’t need no thought control... Teachers, leave them kids alone!” This 1979 album was written by the singer-songwriter Roger Waters, whose father died in the Second World War. It tells the story of Pink, who lost his father at a very young age and built a wall to protect himself from the society and the school that alienated him. Pink Floyd were due to perform The Wall in Berlin a month after our visit to celebrate the end of the Cold War, right in the middle of the zone where the Berlin Wall previously stood. On November 9, 1989, I had watched the televised images of the crowds, people embracing strangers, crying and laughing as they chipped away at the wall that had separated them for decades. It was a revolution that had the grace of being without bloodshed.
Today I live in Berlin, and how I love this city. I know its wounds as if they were my own. In my street in the Kreuzberg neighbourhood, Stolpersteine - square brass plaques embedded in the pavement - recall the tragedy of former residents who were deported for being Jewish. Just 100 feet from my front door the Wall cut my street in half. Behind it, there was a militarised zone, and on the other side, the German Democratic Republic. Today, there’s a pretty garden walkway where, each spring, lilacs fill the air with scent.
We Europeans have come a long way. Our memories and dreams are fragmented and sometimes contradictory, but within this diversity, there is a depth of shared experience. We witnessed a totalitarianism that crushed human identities, terrorised people, blinded and manipulated them, and morphed them into an army of clones in service to a murderous and single-minded ideology. In both East and West we have experienced suffering, but have also observed people's apathy towards the dangers of conformity, blindness and opportunism. Let us keep alive the memory of our own fallibility and use it to arm ourselves against the abusers of history, the pedlars of false identities and hatred who contaminate Europe today. Ours is a continent that has twice defeated totalitarianism, in 1945 and 1989. It has built democracies and restored the dignity of its citizens. Let us reawaken our pride in the memory of those triumphs.
There are those who prefer to erase the past. We must not allow them to transform Europe, once again, into a monster force-fed on national egotism and intolerance. Such monsters destroy civilisations. Let us restore the pride of Europeans in our richly diverse ethnic and religious heritage, so that they may fight those who would destroy it. We will no longer be victims of history. Each one of us has an essential part to play.