November 9th, 2009
02:48 PM GMT
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I've got my own piece of Berlin Wall stuffed away somewhere in my house. I had borrowed a hammer and chisel from a man at the wall and hacked off my very own piece.

West Berliners crowd in front of the Berlin Wall as they watch East German border guards demolish a section of the wall.
West Berliners crowd in front of the Berlin Wall as they watch East German border guards demolish a section of the wall.

It was a week after "Checkpoint Charlie" - a crossing point between Easy and West Germany - in Berlin had been thrown open, a week after a divided city and a divided Germany were reunited.

I had flown over from London with friends for a first-hand view of history. We arrived late on a snowy Friday evening, found a cheap place to stay and headed out into the night. Every bar, every cafe was packed with exuberant West Germans and uncertain East Germans. But everywhere we went, the air of German brother/sisterhood was palpable. Everyone was so positive. We were all Germans, they told us. It would be a seamless unification. Only a few people voiced their concern about how exactly this would work.

We stayed up all night, drinking and talking to Germans. In the morning we headed for the checkpoint ourselves. It was packed with people; all along the wall people were busy trying to knock it down. One other snapshot that still stays with me is the East Germans pulling overloaded shopping baskets full of consumer goods back across the dividing zone to their homes. Little things like washing up trays for the kitchen sink, boot polish, soft drinks. Anything, as long as it wasn't made in the German Democratic Republic.

We snatched a few hours sleep that afternoon and went back out into the night to join the party. The feeling of optimism was still burning.

Well, as history shows, reunification turned out to be much harder, more expensive and longer than anyone could have seen. A few months after the wall came down I visited the former East Germany working on a story about East Germany Inc. being up for sale. An enormous firesale of outdated factories and machinery. Buyers were only interested in the property, and as long as they could get rid of most of the workforce.

Fast forward to today. Think of another communist economy. And think of the difference. This economy is leading the world out of recession, this economy is, at the moment, one of the great hopes for global economic growth, this economy now lectures the U.S. on economic policy. This economy is China. Two decades ago this day, East German communism was finally put to rest. In China, it's going from strength to strength.

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