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Posted by Patricia Zimmermann at 12:52AM   |  14 comments
Brandenburg Gate, Berlin

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." ( 

The 2009 Pariser Platz concert also featured a new reunification song by Paul van Dyk ( 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.




I have always thought that music transcends boundaries, physical and emotional; in fact, I would even call it an open space, where differences could be negotiated and communicated without (much) prejudice.

Perhaps tastes prevent music from fulfilling its potential, but I believe that true music - written and performed with sincerity and compassion - will win its audience.

Walls? Not a problem - let music tear them down.

Music, like all art is inherently political and therefore has the power to both unite and divide at the same time. I found what you wrote about the dialectical relationship between being one world but at the same time not losing our identity intriguing. Did this question become more pertinent with the advent of globalisation? As the world continues to become more borderless, how will music evolve?

Take the latest 'it' band, Vampire Weekend. They mesh bubblegum, African and Caribbean music and cite Cape Cod, the Khyber Pass, Aranciata, Contra Costa, Darjeeling tea, mansard roofs and diplomatic license plates in their lyrics. Some may complain about the musical colonialism of this Columbia-educated indie-rock band. However, as in their song, "Taxi Cab", “You said baby we don’t speak of that/Like a real aristocrat.” Their songs show a self-consciousness of their privileged life and as a NYT article states, "Rather than pretending that the privileged life has no conscience or consequences, they see the coercion that sustains it."

Hi Koon Yen,

Thank you for your great post on February 15th!
I could not agree more with you! True quality music does transcend its time and locality in order to blossom over time, everywhere.
Let's tear down all those walls made of preconceived ideas and be free, not only with music but also with life.
Thank you,

Jairo Geronymo

Hi Noelle Yong,

Thank you for your intelligent and inquisitive post on February 16th.
I think that globalization did bring into question what means to be local, musically and artistically. This is a frightening question because it question the core values of a society. Historically this has proven to be a difficult question to answer.
In privileged societies like ours this question raises ethical questions of social responsibility and activism. The issue that you portrayed with Vampire Weekend can be extrapolated to social issues all over the world.
How much we get out of our comfortable cocoon and become active, by buying alternative music and being socially responsible will dictate collectively where humankind goes.
Keep thinking, keep acting on your beliefs, and you will be a small but powerful force.

Jairo Geronymo

Large scale events with political congregation amuse me.

I think a key ingredient to the execution of such programs that is very often and very naively neglected is the politics involved. It is undoubtedly heartening to see world leaders meeting at a location of historical significance, engaging in a gesture that signifies future hope - but face value is not difficult to place on t eh table, and human emotions are easily ignited.

Just like the recent Copenhagen summit at which there was much scrutiny and criticism, there were many dialogue sessions and closed-door meetings, which ultimately reaped little results except, hope for legally enforceable time.

The uncanny resemblance between them is the activism of the youths. Here, we see painstakingly painted dominoes, and in COP15, the international youth coalition daily meetings.

Allow me rambling space to elaborate. Each night, youth representatives from worldwide congregate to discuss several issues revolving about environmentalism, and review draft proposals submitted by the official meetings of international representatives.

The difference between the youths' discussions and the adults' discussions (for want of better differentiation) was that the youths came up with a comprehensive, cohesive, cooperative, and conclusive document stating the willingness of each country to commit towards lower emissions, ecofriendly industries, research, and donations.

As mentioned in the blog post of many citizens' nostalgia towards the old state, there are many hidden aspects of each colourful and loud event that takes place. There are so many other aspects that could be further explored, I hardly know where to begin.

For a start, political idealism is almost always achieved through sensory overload - hope through marketing, belief via music, conviction by happy pictures.

Hi Chng Bee Hwee,

Thank you for your politically aware post.
I agree with you that in the majority of the times the youth's view and vision of an issue offers the world a fresher, more willing position. It is sad that life experience seems to corrupt people and rob them of the idealism so necessary to really change the world.
I wish you strength and energy in your political battles. Stay true to your convictions and you will make a difference.

Jairo Geronymo

this idea of breaking down walls is interesting... I suppose we need this is our day of international business and certainly international communication.

These ideas of wall breaking and wall building are strange to me. One might even argue that the structure of the Christian faith encourages "wall breaking"; I had a long conversation with a friend just last night about this strange paradoxical reality behind the practice and structure encouraged by Christianity... while the early church, described in the book of Acts, practiced radical community building, the Christian church today is splintered and rigidly organized so as to offer various nuances of the faith depending on the congregation.

Nietzsche's thoughts and studies are interesting to me... he believed that music was radical. Music is the art form that breaks walls or certainly had the potential to break down walls (especially those created by Christian practice in the Western World). Nevertheless, in one book he considered a need for both structure and almost a drunken freedom in life.

I'm not fully sure about my thoughts on walls, but I'm interested in this need for both structure and lack of structure in life.

Dear Friedrich Nietzsche,

Oh, my dear, in your last sentence (I'm not fully sure about my thoughts on walls, but I'm interested in this need for both structure and lack of structure in life. ) you summarize the whole mystery of life!

Religion has both freed and cloistered people. I believe that in the end people can have very different experiences with religion, even in the same denomination or congregation.

Maybe the secret of a good life lies in having walls so that you protect yourself, not because you are afraid of what lies on the other side, but rather because you have made a conscious choice about what you want in your life or not.

I will leave you with a quote from your friend Friedrich that I like very much:
“There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness.”

Take care,

Jairo Geronymo

I feel that while, yes there are walls in music as well as in life, the gates are present in each of them, but their are conditions. For instance in life, if a man or woman discovers that he or she is gay, they must pass through the wall that divides the heterosexuals from the homosexuals, but at what risk. In passing through that gate to the other side, their friends and family may seem them differently, if not alienate them, as if metaphorically "locking" the gate once they pass through, permanently keeping the wall impassable. But also in society these walls with locked gates are necessity. For instance, the wall between child and adult life. The gate is usually kept closed by our parents and through life experiences we slowly assemble the key. This to me is good because it allows the child to experience the innocence, and happy-go-lucky-ness of childhood.

In music these walls exist and in "mainstream" music, if they are crossed sometimes they produce varied results. For instance a band I am fond of, A day to Remember, just released a new song from an upcoming album, and reactions varied. The song had no breakdown or screaming which many fans of ADTR are used to, but most people still thought the song was good, in fact awesome. Others however responded negatively and stated that the band was selling out to mainstream music and that they were bad. I feel that they just wanted to walk through a gate and pass through the wall of their genre to experiment. Myself being in a band, occasionally you want to search for a new sound to improve your repertoire.

So I personally am not sure as to whether the gates in both music and in life are good or bad, maybe just a combination of both.

nice post, thanks

Great site, and a well written post.

Thanks for sharing

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