I’ve been told recently that in a previous life I must have been a worshipper of Chronos, or perhaps even some sort of minor deity in the field of past time… Which was, I know, a nice way to remark on my obsession with history.
Because yes – in case you haven’t noticed, I do love history. I love it in itself, I love how it is told in scientific earnest and in fiction, I love the way its perception changes through time, I love how it is understood, misunderstood and coloured, I love the games one can play with it.
I always did, even as a small child, when my father would tell me about Julius Ceasar instead of, say, Little Red Riding Hood. Because the fact is that history was filled with, you know, stories.
Still, it was just that – stories that had really happened and were now firmly lodged in books. History was an interesting and bottomless collection of stories, but… it had all happened already. I remember having this notion, as a child, that history had happened, and that I wouldn’t see any of it in my lifetime.
And then… I was fifteen when the Berlin Wall fell.
I remember standing rooted before the TV set, and watching Berliners climb over the spray-painted wall, with pickaxes, and sing, and push their way past the perplexed VoPos… And I cried my eyes out over it.
I cried with joy, I was moved – not only because of the thing itself, but because, for the first time in my life, I consciously saw history leap out of books and happen.
And it was so alive, and forceful, and sweeping. Empires really crumbled, and crowds really sang in the streets, and tore down much more than physycal frontiers… Knowing in theory that the world could change overnight had been one thing – seeing it happen changed everything.
All of a sudden, all the stories in the books, all the far-away facts that had been just ink and paper, came alive. It was as though witnessing one made them all more real. As though it breathed life into them all. As though it blew away all the dust that had coated them.
On the night of November 9, 1989, as the Wall fell, the world took a whole new meaning in my eyes – a new layer of reality that comprised movement and change. Everything became more vibrant, more vivid, deeper, in a whorl of iridescence and undercurrents. It was thrilling. And shocking. And magnificent.
So, yes. I know nothing of my previous lives, but I know exactly what rite of passage made me a worshipper of Chronos, and Clio, and Mnemosyne – and that happened on a November night, twenty-five years ago.
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