Memoir set in Berlin – Plus we chat to the author…
- Book: 1989 The Berlin Wall (My Part in its Downfall)
- Location: Berlin, Germany
- Author: Peter Millar
This excellent autobiography of Peter Millar’s life as a reporter takes the reader through the years before, during and after the collapse of the Berlin Wall in a clear, easy to read manner.
Although this book is primarily about East / West Berlin, it includes what was going on in the rest of the Eastern bloc before the Wall came down. In doing so Peter takes us through his early days working for Reuters at Fleet Street, before moving to East Berlin as their correspondent. There he meets many people, mostly at his local bar, who give him the story of the building of the Wall, and the appalling outcomes. He mentions, almost in passing, the surveillance and bugging of his flat – although this becomes much more scary when, many years later, he actually gets to read his Stasi file.
It is not all horror and misery though, we are given amusing anecdotes about the reality of Germans versus the British stereotype of them. There are some laugh out loud moments when the author returns to the UK and works for the Daily Telegraph foreign desk where life was not as exciting as he had imagined it would be, despite the revelation that they had “a special way of using paperclips”.
There are references to the marital strain that being a frequently travelling reporter brings, including an instance of attempting to put snow chains on their stuck in the mud vehicle in the -10C Soviet Union – and the annoyance that just when you need a surveillance team to be following you, there isn’t one. I would have been interested to hear more detail of what it was like for his wife living in East Germany, but this is very much Peter’s story and not seen from the perspective of his wife.
The story moves between Germany, Poland and the birth of the Solidarity Trades Union, to the Soviet Union plus many other countries in the communist bloc, giving the full picture of the lead up to the fall of the Wall and “The Domino Effect” the Wall’s coming down had.
For the visitor to Berlin there are lots of references to places and monuments, including the bar the author frequented which is, according to the book, still there, “substantially unchanged, and remains the best bar in Berlin.”
At a first glance into the book my heart sank at the print style used, but this was soon forgotten when I started reading. There are some great photos included. Any German words/phrases used are immediately translated afterwards (thank you!).
I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in how the Wall came to fall, and about the events going on around that time.
Over on the blog, author Peter Millar chats to us about language and dialect and being a travel writer…