The Sounds and Music of Open Space
Monday, February 15, 2010
Blog posting written by Jairo Geronymo, pianist, Nurnberg, Germany
The Berlin Wall fell on November 9th, 1989.
Twenty years later 31 heads of state (current and past) gathered in Berlin to celebrate this historical occasion. Everybody from Hillary Clinton, Russian President Medvedev and French President Sarkozy to historical titans Mikhail Gorbatchov and Lech Walesa showed up.
Angela Merkel, the German Chancelor, met in the morning with Gorbatchov at the Bornholmer Strasse Bruecke. It was the first bridge between West and East Berlin to be opened in 1989. It is also famous as the place where many spies were exchanged during the Cold War years.
Attended by ten thousand people soaked by rain, the evening celebrations started with a concert on the Pariser Platz, the area immediately on the east side of the Brandenburger Gate. The Staatskapelle Orchestra conducted by Daniel Baremboim--he had been in Berlin in 1989 when the Berlin Wall fell-- played excerpts from Beethoven and Wagner.
Herbert von Karajan conducted the Berlin Philharmonic from 1955 until April 1989. He catapulted it to international prominence and made an impressive number of recordings. His successor was the Italian Claudio Abbado.
But it was the Jewish-American Leonard Bernstein that staged, on Christmas Day 1989, a massive musical celebration by leading an international orchestra on the east side of the Brandenburger Gate. In a typically grand gesture, he changed the words of Beethoven’s "Ode to Joy" to "Ode to Freedom." (http://www.notablebiographies.com/Be-Br/Bernstein-Leonard.html#ixzz0XJUTN3Mo).
The 2009 Pariser Platz concert also featured a new reunification song by Paul van Dyk (http://www.paulvandyk.com/) called “We are One”. The title is in English, not in German. Paul van Dyk grew up in the old East Berlin and feared the Stasi (the secret police in East Germany) because he constantly broke the law by listening to ‘decadent’ radio from West Berlin.
Radio waves and its music travel easily through walls, whether concrete or ideological. Paul van Dyk and a handful of friends had parties on basements for trusted friends who they knew would keep them out of prison by not reporting their underground musical activities. Later Paul became a DJ. He is now is internationally renowned in the techno world. If you have ventured out to dance at a club anywhere in the world, you probably have danced to his music.
After the concert, Angela Merkel led dignitaries through the Branderburger gate, holding hands with Lech Walesa, the man responsible for the Solidarity movement in Poland and Gorbatchov, the most influential person in the opening of the east. Fireworks exploded as they crossed the gate, which was partly destroyed by Napoleon. The gate was rebuilt on the border between east and west Berlin, and is now a symbol of Germany.
Angela and friends walked towards what was for me the highlight of the evening.
1,000 domino pieces had been lined up from the Potsdamer Platz to the iconic Reichstag, passing by the striking Jewish Memorial. They tumbled as a representation of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
At seven feet tall, these domino pieces, had been painted by children. Two hundred came from abroad. Each had a special message of friendship and faith in the future. On one of pieces, the two Berlin towers, one in the former east, one in the former west, hugged each other. In another, there were pictures and names of grade school students-- most of the names were not German names. All the dominos spoke of hope, equality and inclusion.
The political and social symbolism of falling dominos is obvious. We strive for a world devoid of walls. But is it possible for us really to be one with the world, without losing our identity?
Many former east Germans still miss aspects of their former lifestyle under state communism.
So can music unite us, transforming differences into unity? The walls in music seem to be older than the Berlin wall -- and apparently stronger.
Maybe the answer to all these questions lies in diversity and respect for each other’s tastes and values.
I would contend that there is space for Beethoven and Paul van Dyk (I certainly do not want to dance in a club to Beethoven’s music…) as well as life in New York or North Korea. But it is critically important that we always work to keep the physical and musical channels open.
Whether constructed out of concrete or quarter notes, it is okay by me to have walls-- as long as there is also, always, a gate.