It was never wise to describe historic events with superlatives.
They wore off quickly, undermined the meaning of incidents, and were generally a little pretentious. After all, how could one event be the greatest, the worst, or the strangest to everyone in history collectively?
Quite presumptuous to be the one making such statements, surely.
Needless to say, Ludwig wasn’t a fan of them.
From what he had learned, there were hardly any fixed points in history; humanity could always reach new heights and lows, one more surprising and abhorrent than the last.
Yet, Ludwig couldn’t deny that he had the strangest fixation on Berlin.
While he preferred Bonn, as it was generally more orderly and not stuffed with a bunch of unpleasant memories, there was something ever so mystic about this place.
Fate had its hands in the many twists and turns of Berlin in ways that Ludwig couldn’t fully comprehend, and it filled the city to the brim with an array of outcomes for decades now. They ranged from absolutely horrifying to liberating, so there was quite some potential.
Ludwig, however, opted for convoluted most of the time.
With a frown, he peered through the bottom of the beer glass and watched as the pitiful rest gathered.
These serving sizes were smaller on purpose, weren’t they? The Times Bar sure was stingy; most of its money probably went into its luxurious interior of polished wood, red lamps, and leather cushions.
Ludwig placed the glass with an audible thud and leaned further back into the couch. Not a moment later, his eyes searched for the waitress; he couldn’t spend the rest of the evening being fully sober in the hotel lobby after all. Once he made eye contact with her, he signaled for another drink. As soon as that exchange was over, Ludwig rummaged in his jacket for his cigarette casket.
Not that he was much of a smoker, but it developed into a casual habit since the Second World War. Now, it caused an itch in his fingers ever so often still.
Nothing to be proud of, he told himself as he lifted a cigarillo to his mouth regardless and flicked the lighter. The Savoy Hotel was known for its Cuban cigars, and he surely had taken advantage of that. Ludwig inhaled the scented smoke with a hum before it blurred his sight as he exhaled, and the world started to look a smidge better.
It’s always the same with this place.
Promises among promises only to be left with discussions that were less than satisfactory. Any project that started in Berlin would crash and burn or twist into something much worse.
This time, it was about new travel laws and restrictions between East and West Germany to allow more freedom between the nations. They hoped to ease and control the rising protests, yet the current ideas could keep the population satisfied for so long. Ludwig had watched these men quarrel about a topic they never wanted to understand.
Because soon enough, people would try to escape from East Germany again without any government being able to keep their leash on them, no matter how much they forced it.
And, how could they? Each side merely wanted to reach their hand so far to meet their own end.
Nothing new, no.
Ludwig had learned that politics wasn’t more than a game of chess centered around pride and power, not reason.
“Here you go!”
The waitress cut through the faint fog and placed the new mug before carrying away the other. Ludwig glanced after her for a moment, then shrugged it off before putting out the cigarillo.
Couldn’t let the drink go to waste, so he almost emptied half of the glass in one go; maybe it could drown his growing irritation.
Whether replacing inner bitterness with liquid bitterness worked, he had yet to find out.
With a heavy sigh, Ludwig let his eyes dart around the lobby instead. Only a handful of people were still around at this hour, the majority being hotel personnel. A soft jazz melody filled the silence along with the muffled conversations, and the wooden décor paired with the dim lights almost made this space look homely.
Another glance at the mug.
Gilbert would probably swear on this brand, the shape of the glass, just to dunk on any other beer further south of the country. The image had Ludwig snort; he could already hear the other boast over all the noise, not caring for the glares he’d receive for an opinion that may or may not be shared among most.
How long has it been since they’ve had a drink together?
It’s been so long since either of them had been able to cross the border, too.
Over ten years for sure, if not over fifteen.
At that, Ludwig grabbed the mug again and downed the rest.
“Wait, what? You think we can go visit them on the weekend already?”
A duo passed his couch and headed towards the bar; Ludwig only caught so much of the conversation. From what he could tell, it was a young woman with her father who, at that question, waved her off.
“I mean, Mr. Schabowski said that it’s ‘effective immediately’, no?” The name had Ludwig perk up. After all, the politician has turned up more than once in recent discussions and acted as an unofficial spokesperson. “So, I don’t see why we shouldn’t be able to have a nice little trip to Leipzig!”
“Come on, you don’t think that’ll work with no strings attached… They’re going to make us have countless documents for it. Besides, what makes you think— “
From then on, Ludwig couldn’t make out much more as they left with their respective drinks, but this bit was enough to have him frown.
That sounded different from what the officials have discussed this afternoon. This kind of information wasn’t even supposed to be public yet.
His gaze searched one of the mounted TVs for clues. The volume had been muted, so he had to squint his eyes to make out any text. However, once he registered the headline, Ludwig questioned his eyesight and the amount of alcohol he’s had so far:
“GDR opens borders.”
He rose from the couch and edged closer. A handful of people were nearby and mumbled amongst themselves, similarly confused.
Yet, Ludwig wasn’t mistaken. The news did proclaim that the borders were open. The news anchor did allow for a smidge more joy on his expression while he spoke, but Ludwig couldn’t even attempt to read his lips to understand what he was saying.
None could be as easy as it seemed, something had to be up. Until Ludwig saw it happen with his own eyes, he’d question anything and everything; he was wary to feel content with any decision these days.
As if in trance, Ludwig approached the receptionist at his desk. By the look on his face, one could tell that the young man was left on his own.
“Excuse me”, Ludwig said, and the other jolted up, “could you get me a cab, please?”
“I’m terribly sorry, Sir, but I won’t be able to reach one anytime soon. With the recent news, they appear to be quite busy…”, he huffed and showed him a weak smile while his left hand fumbled for the phone as it rang. “And the roads are sure to be even busier. But I could send someone to inform you once a cab has arrived, Sir! What’s your room number?”
“Never mind.” Ludwig waved him off, then turned on his heels to leave him to his tasks. “I’ll walk.”
“But Sir, it’s freezing!” The telephone receiver clashed on the ground, and Ludwig heard even more fumbling, yet he paid no mind. Instead, he marched straight for the exit and pushed open the doors.
A gush of brisk air hit him, and as he entered the streets, the mixed smell of exhaust gas and spilled gasoline reached his nose, and it had him sniffle.
Once he would reach the road to the Tiergarten, it might make for a more pleasant scenery with greenery than this array of dark gray blocks, barely lit and littered with more broken streetlamps than functioning ones.
Ludwig would have to lie if he said he didn’t come to expect that; Berlin was always a bit on the chaotic side.
Of course, at this time of night, there wasn’t much activity around. People were either already in bed at this hour, unaware, sitting at home and staring at their screens and radios, or they ventured out to understand the impact the recent news had upon their city.
After all, after almost 30 years of the same song and spiel, it was normal to question this sudden development, no?
Well, Ludwig couldn’t blame these people, since he was among them, too, rubbing his hands against the creeping cold.
Once he reached the main road, Ludwig understood why there were no cabs available: The streets started to get packed with people the closer he was getting to the center. Cars were honking, blocked by the crowd, and had little to no hope of moving further. What a stark contrast to all the bushes, trees, and garden's serenity. It tempted him to wander them instead of this chaos.
However, from what Ludwig could see, the drivers and passengers were grinning from one ear to another. The piercing sounds had him whine, though, and he lowered his head as he tried to block out the noise with his train of thoughts.
The faster he’d get to one of their border crossings the better, right? But which one should he head to?
Ludwig recalled all the checkpoints and distances from memory, and how they were laid out on his mental map. Yet, his feet carried him down another road as if out of instinct.
If there was one place that stood as a grim reminder, it was the Brandenburg Gate.
He could already make out the looming structure in the distance, a shadow that always remained in the back of everybody’s mind.
“No one has the intention of building a wall.”
How many times did this phrase pass his mind these past decades? Too many times to count, so much so that he couldn’t find any humor in the irony of it any longer. And the effects weren’t only felt here, but the entire world was split between an upstart, getting high on power, and an old spirit hoping to rejuvenate himself.
Then again, Ludwig wasn’t one to talk with his historic track record, and besides, they were off pretty well, all things considered.
The ugly conflict was fought in other parts of the world, far from their immediate conscience, to keep them from feeling guilty about the mess they’ve left behind.
And now there he stood, before a symbol of this split, of this exaggerated chess game that was always on the verge of announcing the end of the world.
As expected, people had gathered all around this square, too. They embraced one another, popped bottles, and climbed the Wall in this swirl of ecstasy. There was no force necessary or even available to tear into it, everywhere Ludwig looked they were rejoicing as laughter and tears swelled in unison.
It didn’t matter who was around, whether friends and family reuniting with loved ones or strangers reaching for each other’s hands, huddling closer. Even with Ludwig, they’ve shared smiles and pats on the back as they passed, eyes shimmering in the dim lights and cheeks alight from laughter. They were all neighbors of the same city, all part of something bigger, and, at the end of the day, there was more that connected them than whatever had kept them apart.
Ludwig watched the groupings, one after another, and it tied a knot in his throat. Many pieces of conversations flew over the square, drowning each other out in this mess. But it voiced so much of what his mind couldn’t provide anymore with all the white noise and the ringing of his heartbeat between his ears.
One friend spoke to another about how they never expected to pass this gate one day, and another young man with his grandparents stuttered about how unbelievable to witness all of it was. They spoke of the hour of freedom, of unity after so long, and didn’t know if they were supposed to sob or cheer.
His sight became foggy, and Ludwig swallowed against the knot as his frame began to shake. He wandered aimlessly through the sea of people, his gaze only fixed for so long on this or that. People dancing and drinking, others doing the same on top of the Wall while those below either were being helped up or ripped pieces out. What once struck fear into the hearts of so many was now the playground for the people of Berlin throughout a single night.
One crowd, not too far off, belted out a song, bursting with so much feeling that one could practically hear the tears.
Finally, a smile graced his lips, and his chuckle came out in a breathless tremble. His chest clenched on his heart as his cheeks flushed redder.
“Such a day, we have been looking forward to it”, a few voices broke off, laughing, but pressed on to finish the line, “and who knows when we’ll meet again!”
It was all a mesmerizing blur of joy and sorrow, relishing the moment and mourning the time lost between them. Humans have so little of it anyway, and they had to spend three decades of it worrying and pondering about when this curtain would be lifted, and when they could meet each other face to face again.
Despite his immortality, Ludwig related all too well right then. How many faces he had begun seeing less and less, how every reunion was stained by the uncertainty of their future.
‘How long has it been?’ - ‘How are you holding up?’ - ‘Have they been treating you well?’
Those questions were always accompanied by a smile, but their eyes would speak of fears and memories left unsaid.
Ludwig knew, he always knew that Gilbert was hiding injuries or how Erzsébet was working herself to the bone and merely laughed it all off. They were all waiting, holding off whatever bothered them for better days, no matter how much he’d pressure them to admit to it. Maybe it was because of their age that they could do so better than him, but Ludwig couldn’t ignore how his expression was struck by grief at the mere memories.
His smile wavered, his eyebrows bent, and he finally fell victim to a sensation Ludwig thought he had forgotten about since the Great Wars: he cried.
Ludwig whined and sobbed as he buried his face between his hands, and his chest tightened so much it stung.
Among all these people, among the hundreds and thousands, Ludwig was alone. Whatever strength he had attempted to grow, he wasn't enough to protect those he cared about or make amends for the wounds he left behind.
And, by God, Ludwig couldn’t deny that he missed everyone. Even those he could visit, he craved to be near right then, to experience a smidge of this bliss and share it with them so that they could tell him, yes, they had found their way back to one another.
After what felt like an eternity, his rationality kicked back in again, and Ludwig straightened as he rubbed the tears away.
He couldn’t let himself go like that; it was of no use to anybody. It must have been the crowd that brought out all that, and now that he had confirmed that the borders had truly been opened tonight, Ludwig might as well take his leave. Any decision that he could make tonight wouldn’t be sensible anyway, better leave it for the next morning to clear his head.
As Ludwig turned to spot a route out of this impromptu fair, which was easier said than done, something else caught his eye in the sea of people. While there were all kinds of individuals around, there was something familiar about that one light shock of hair.
All his previous plans were forgotten, and he pushed himself through the masses to follow every glimpse and sign of it. Ludwig knew that if he had been mistaken, his heart would have given up on him then and there, but he had to find out, otherwise, he wasn’t going to be granted any rest in his sleep. He barely registered a few comments and complaints as he moved through groupings, but nothing reached his thoughts.
Part of him wanted to call out to him just to get the damn answer already, but it all got stuck in his throat, couldn’t pass the knot that remained stuck ever since he had arrived.
Sooner than later, Ludwig had caught up to him. The shock on his face must have been quite obvious as other people glanced back in surprise, and the other followed their reaction.
And there he was: his elder brother Gilbert, in the flesh. Just right there within the crowd with messy hair and wrinkled clothes as if he had thrown that together in a minute.
The two brothers stared at one another for a second, disbelief and relief in constant rotation.
Ludwig could see the exhaustion on his face, the dark circles under his eyes; had he become a bit scrawny, too?
Whatever other observation he could have made, Gilbert then flashed him a smirk and pulled the other into a bear hug. Ludwig exhaled shakily, finally, and returned the embrace tightly as he hid his face in the other's neck.
"I knew you’d be around here somewhere”, Gilbert hummed, “I felt it, somehow. Must be my big brother instinct.”
Ludwig tightened his grip on his back and stifled a sob. He attempted a reply, something between ‘what are you saying?’ and ‘I can’t believe it’, but neither passed his lips. Instead, Gilbert pulled back and placed his hands on his shoulders, looking at him with the proudest smile a brother could muster. His soft gaze stung his chest once more, and the tension of the last few weeks, if not years, was dissolving right there and then.
"Have you grown since the last time we’ve seen each other? What are they feeding you over there?!” Then, he gave a light smack to his arm and let out a bright laugh, though it shook towards the end. “And yet, you look like shit! Crying like a baby, too, huh?”
“Oh, shut up!” As Ludwig rubbed the tears away, he noticed that Gilbert was struggling just as much to keep his eyes dry despite his big dumb grin plastered on his face. Before he could even retort that much, it all came streaming down his cheeks, and his lips quivered. Thus, Ludwig’s expression softened, and he allowed for a smile.
“You have no idea how happy I am to see you”, he began, “I’ve missed you, you know?”
And that admission was enough to break his smirk as Gilbert covered his eyes with his lower arm, forcing back his sobs, and he trembled. His laugh still came through, yet the grit was gone.
“Believe me, I’ve missed you, too, big guy...”
At that, Ludwig risked crying more, though pushed back the urge; he should save some of his dignity.
There was no need to speak of days passed, of the terrors that each of them had faced. This night existed to rejoice the present and the frisk delight within this hour, to relish in it together for as long as they were allowed to.
So, Gilbert grabbed him by the wrist to pull him along. Laughter came to him so easily again even if his eyes were still red from weeping, and Ludwig couldn’t keep himself from smiling as he noticed.
“After the announcement, I marched straight for the checkpoint at Bornholm Street! Those bastard guards had no clue what the fuck was happening and tried to send us back! ‘Tomorrow’, they said, ‘then we’d be allowed’, but we stood our ground!” Gilbert got more and more heated as he spoke, his free arm performing enough gestures that Ludwig thought he was trying to recreate the scene. “I bet, at some point, we were hundreds yelling to get an entry! I even got to shove and punch one of those idiots, it was awesome!”
“What?! But the broadcast was everywhere, how could they have not been informed?” Ludwig frowned at that; this sounded like someone didn’t bother with their task. “And what makes you think that was such a good idea?! You could have been shot!”
Gilbert rolled his eyes and waved him off, ignoring the glare.
“I’ve faced wars and weapons far more threatening! Do you honestly believe that a handful of guys could get a scratch on my awesome self?”
His frown worsened and his gaze hung at the dozens of people celebrating on top of the Wall. Ludwig only ever heard rumors of what happened around the border, yet, in his experience, all horrifying details proved to be true.
“They’ve shot people for less, Gil. And you know that, too.”
At that, Gilbert snorted but didn’t snap back right away. Instead, his eyes followed the same path, and he let out a weak laugh before glancing back over his shoulder to flash a grin.
“Well, they didn’t, and that’s all that counts, right?”
Ludwig suppressed the urge to scold him; how could he be so foolish to risk his life at every turn as if it did not matter?!
However, Ludwig took a deep breath instead and swallowed his words. Gilbert wasn’t going to listen to any reason anyway, and honestly? There was no point in lingering in the ‘what ifs’, in events that hadn’t occurred.
“Right…” His shoulders sagged, free from yet another weight. “That’s all that matters.”
Once the duo had reached a spot by the Wall, Gilbert pushed himself through, elbows first.
“Come on, someone give us a lift! We want some of that sweet view, too!”, he called upwards, smacking his palm against the coarse surface to gain their attention.
Ludwig flinched at the sound of a hammer nearby, a young man smashed the tool against the construction, and bits, dust, and pieces were sent flying. Those around him cheered the man on and tried to get their hands on the action, too. It didn’t take longer than a second for a handful of people to reach down, their palms right in front of him. The brothers accepted the help gladly, though the climbing wasn’t too difficult.
Standing secure on top of the Wall, on the other hand, wasn’t as easy when they were so many squeezed on this spot. Plus, having Gilbert cling to him to use Ludwig as support complicated that task as well.
“What’s with that look on your face, buddy? Are you afraid of heights or something?” Gilbert poked him in his side, and the other flinched as his cheeks flushed red. Ludwig steadied him instead, then huffed and shifted in place.
“Don’t be absurd”, he retorted, “I can’t have you fall during your next stunt.”
“Ah, but it wouldn’t even matter where I’d land, would it? By the power of our people, this senseless construction serves no purpose anymore, we made it obsolete!” Gilbert underlined his words by stomping on his footing, then turned to a grouping to raise his voice: “It’s just a bunch of bricks now! The Wall has fallen, isn’t that right?!” His question was followed by cheers and the crowd swung right back to singing and dancing.
Gilbert turned to glance back at him, his smirk ever so wide and patted his back.
“You see? It takes a lot more to keep people apart from each other! And it takes a whole lot more to chain me away from my baby brother!”
Indeed, nothing lasted forever.
The world was in constant motion, turning tides and fates around so often, and there was something comforting and terrifying to that thought.
This moment couldn’t remain forever, yet neither did the Wall. It was all a matter of time until a decision would turn their destination right on its head. And whatever willed this event into existence, Ludwig could only thank fate that it led him down such a hopeful path for a change.
“You know what?” Ludwig could feel his smile grow as he watched over the crowd. Dozens upon dozens of people had gathered to celebrate their reunion, witnessing what might be a turning point in all their collective lives. “I feel like we’re going to remember tonight for a very long time.”
Gilbert snorted but didn’t argue with him. Instead, he walked closer to the edge and stemmed his hands on his sides.
“Feels special, doesn’t it?” He turned back; his form outlined by the many scattered lights. “Feels historic.”
Of course, Gilbert was someone to overdramatize anything. Whether it was his self, actions, or accomplishments, nothing was less spectacular in his eyes than himself. Yet, Ludwig couldn’t deny that the atmosphere had something special to it after all.
“It really does”, he said, “and no matter what turn this is going to take tomorrow, I’m just glad that we get to witness it together.”
“Ah, now don’t get sentimental on me! We’ve cried enough for one night!” Gilbert gave a light punch to his arm. His irritation melted soon after, however, and he let out a sigh. “But believe me when I say that I’m just as happy… We’ve attracted enough garbage in our lives so far, we gotta celebrate when we get the chance! And speaking of!” Gilbert grasped his arm once more to move him around. “I’ve seen a group over there with a bunch of beer crates! You think we can scrounge a bottle or two?”
“Or we could just ask politely.”
“Same thing, really!”
No, Ludwig wasn’t a fan of superlatives.
They could never quite capture the true spectrum of influence an event could have, and he was the last one to make such a judgment.
After all, history was written by those in power, and it wasn’t necessarily done to project the whole truth of an event.
However, right then, Ludwig wanted to believe that the people influenced their own history for a change. Drawn together by the wish for freedom, for camaraderie.
And ultimately, by being ever so stubborn, that’s what they achieved for a few hours, and wasn’t that something to think about?
Perhaps, with a fresh new memory, Ludwig could come to appreciate Berlin a little more after tonight.