Two quick thoughts on the Berlin Wall’s 20th. The first is how moving it was to see the photos of Gorbachev with Merkel in the middle of the crowds on the bridge that I mostly — in a cheap, pop-culture sort of way — associate with Michael Caine and the film of Funeral in Berlin. John Naughton gets it exactly right, I think, that Gorbachev’s was the real hero’s role. I suspect the true distance of history will end up seeing him that way.
The second thought was being reminded of an idea for a story I had years ago. I’m not sure it would work — it’d be tricky to pull off, in any event. Call it Souvenirs, perhaps. Basically, we follow the triumphant collapse and dismantlement of the Wall, its gradual destruction, but also the extent to which pieces of it are scattered across the world as souvenirs, many of which are held in places of honour by governments, statesmen, and the like. The opening scene might well be the unveiling of a piece of the Wall in some significant civic or political space: the White House, say.
But something very bad happens to spoil the day. Some sort of lethal toxin, or virus, or other deadly macguffin, springs from the piece of historic Wall at a crucial moment. It starts to kill everyone within reach. Pull focus outwards, and we see that the same scene is being repeated across the globe, as pieces of the Wall are suddenly transformed into a sort of human Kryptonite in the hearts of the world’s political powers.
Probably a flashback at this point, to the lair of a band of nefarious plotters — powerful, military types. It’s not clear when this is taking place, but we assume not too long before the Wall falls. Their scheme: to plant in the Wall the seeds of the terrible carnage we’ve just witnessed. We see the technical details, and it’s enough to convince us that this is very serious. Their motive seems to be more or less nihilistic destruction of the civilised world, so it’s clear that if the plan works, we’re looking at Doomsday. But if the seeds of destruction are being planted only in the Wall, how can they destroy people and countries thousands of miles away?
The fiendishness of the plan slowly becomes clear. Since each nuclear warhead in each opposing arsenal is more or less matched by a mutually-assured brother, they cancel each other out, and none can prevail. But there’s a much longer, much subtler game. What if the weapon were not only welcomed — a modern Trojan Horse — into the enemy’s city, but given a place of great honour, in its parliament, its palace, its council and its congress? What if the weapon could be disguised as the very symbol of victory?
Smiles and dark laughter. Pull focus outwards again, and what’s revealed is devastating. We’re not shortly before the Wall comes down. We’re way back at its beginning. The terrible plot we’ve seen both planned and executed, wasn’t the cause of the Berlin Wall being destroyed. It was the very cause of the Berlin Wall being built, safe in the knowledge that its collapse decades later would be so celebrated that pieces would be carried into the hearts of the most powerful democracies in the world, leading inevitably to their doom.
We watch as the Wall is methodically constructed.
[Not a happy story. I think it was originally meant to carry some sense of how bizarre it seemed to me that actual physical bits of the Berlin Wall had acquired such value — both political and monetary — since it came down. If such a plot had existed, this is how successful it would have been.]