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Opinion: Remembering a good news story

Despite looming questions, the first few days after the Berlin Wall fell were glorious.

(Photos by Reuters; Illustration by Street Attack)

BOSTON — During half a century in the news trade there have been only two unalloyed good news stories that I covered. One was Anwar Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem in 1977, and the other was the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, now coming upon its 20th anniversary.

I arrived in Warsaw from Moscow on Nov. 9, 1989 to interview a man who had been described to me as Poland’s last Stalinist, party spokesman Jan Bisztyga. To my astonishment he pulled out a bottle of whisky from the office safe and, with a dismissive wave at the communist tomes in the bookcase behind him, he proceeded to demolish the faith he had served for so many years.

It was 15 years too late to save communism, he said. The modern world had simply passed it by. “Ninety percent of all the inventions since the dawn of civilization were invented in the last 35 years,” he said, “and most of them invented in the West."

Berlin Wall anniversary

He spoke of the wasteful and destructive emphasis on class warfare over the years. Pressure to change exploded first in Poland for historic reasons, he said, but pressure was building now in the Soviet Union, in Hungry, now in East Germany, and Czechoslovakia will be next, he said.

“There is no future to the kind of bureaucratic socialism I am representing now,” he said, “and we will dissolve it in January. You have won.”

I hurried back to my hotel to file what I thought was a major scoop, only to turn on the BBC and learn that the Wall was coming down in Berlin — an event not even the gloomy Bisztyga had expected. My interview had been eclipsed by a bigger story, so I hurried on to Berlin to find the biggest and most uproarious block party in Europe in full swing.

East Berliners were dancing on the wall, and hacking holes in our generation’s most potent symbol of repression. They were coming over to be hugged by West Berliners, and alchohol flowed freely far into the night.

Before the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin’s enduring symbol, there were three tall towers and bright lights illuminating the wall . On top of each tower sat the great American media moguls of their day: Tom Brokaw of NBC, Peter Jennings of ABC and Dan Rather of CBS. West Berliners came out to gawk at the towers and the humming trucks at their base — a sight no one saw on TV back in America because the cameras were atop the towers pointed east.