Beyond the Berlin Wall
In this new four-part series commissioned to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, RTÉ's former Economics Editor, George Lee takes us 'Beyond the Berlin Wall', talking to people who lived behind the Iron Curtain, exploring what life was like for them during that time and contrasting it with the personal and political transformation through which they have lived. The series also charts the history of the wall from its construction through to its fall and beyond.
The night the Berlin Wall came down was one of the most significant events of the last century - the catalyst for the end of communism and the USSR. The 9th November 2009 is the 20th anniversary of the fall, when the Iron Curtain - symbolised by the Berlin Wall - was lifted and hundreds of millions of people were set free. After four decades in control, communism was brought to its knees by people power.
Since the fall, Europe has changed beyond measure. Communism and the regimes it spawned had held generations of Europeans back from their true potential. Now free, it is this context that shapes those countries and their people today. The people that lived under the fist of communist rule are now at the centre of Europe and are having a profound impact on this continent and the rest of the world, through migration and their thirst for opportunity.
RTÉ's former Economics Editor, George Lee travels 'Beyond the Berlin wall' to discover a world and people that for him growing up might has well have been on another planet.
Each programme in this series will be made up of four or five incredible human stories that add up to give a bigger picture.
Programme one looks at why the wall was built, programme 2 is about life behind the wall, programme 3 follows the resistance to the wall and its fall, with programme 4 charting life after the fall of the wall, all the while contrasting people's lives today with the past.
In tonight's episode of 'Beyond the Berlin Wall' George Lee meets the people whose lives were marked by the Berlin Wall. The Brothers Rudolf and Johannes Muller whose family was destroyed by the wall, former Stasi officer Hagen Koch who drew the very line the wall would follow and Peter Roos, the engineer whose belief in freedom led him to risk everything to escape it.
The Iron curtain tore the heart out of Europe. But these stories also tell us that there are those people who find the courage to challenge the darkness.
The Cold War was a war of cultures - the two enemies, Russian and America would go to any length to win. The main battleground was ordinary life - the victims, ordinary people. The communists terrorised their citizens with massive secret police forces - anyone who stood in their way was forced to submit.
In tonight's episode of Beyond the Berlin Wall George Lee meets people whose lives were scarred by this history; Hartmut Richter, a dissident terrorised and persecuted by the Stasi secret service, Henry McDonald an Irish Journalist who believed that communism was the future; Rudolf Muller who dug a tunnel under the wall to get his children out and Birgit Bose an athlete whose body has been destroyed in the quest for victory.
Episode 3 tells the story of how the wall collapsed, with the incredible scenes playing out live on TV. What they failed to show however, was how a Kafkaesque system had controlled and crushed the spirit of millions before a ground swell of anger and frustration would rise up and say; enough.
George travels to Poland and the former East Germany to meet people on both sides of the battle - people who were either controlling the regime or resisting it. Vera Olschlegal, the beautiful actress who married one of the most senior politicians in East Germany; Herbert Kunz, an agent who bugged embassies and was at the heart of the security apparatus that tried to control the lives of others and Radjo Monk, a poet who refused to accept the repression of a failed system. He also meets former Irish Labour party leader Ruairí Quinn who travelled to Hungary before the fall of the Iron Curtain. Together they tell one of the most extraordinary stories of recent history.
In this final episode, George Lee meets retired Stasi officers who say they were betrayed by a regime to which they dedicated their lives. Hartmut Richter, a former prisoner persecuted by the Stasi, who fears that some day soon they will return to power; an 80 year old woman nostalgic for the certainties of Soviet life; an Irish multinational chief executive who welcomes the potential of doing business in Poland and a fashion designer in Berlin who created bold fashions for the future.