In the late 1960s, when I was a young reporter for Time Magazine in Berlin, things were always incredibly exciting. History always seemed to be right behind me or right in front of me. The city still bore ubiquitous scars of World War II but also a constant expectation of future upheaval. The Berlin wall loomed like a nasty threat. The city air crackled.
History began again began right on my doorstep. On the evening of June 2, 1967, I found myself running back and forth with student demonstrators in the streets around the German Opera. They were protesting the visit of the Shah of Iran. Stones and firecrackers flew through the air.
I stopped to catch my breath on a side street called the Krumme Strasse, just a block away from the opera house. Suddenly I heard a bang and saw a flash in the open ground floor of an unfinished building right next to me. At first, I thought it was just another firecracker thrown by the students. But a few minutes later, someone was carried out on a stretcher to an ambulance.
Only the next morning did I learn that a student had been shot and killed by a policeman. The victim’s name: Benno Ohnesorg. His name has gone down in the history of the Federal Republic. The date of his death—June 2—became a rallying cry on the left and was appropriated by a terrorist group as its name in the 1970s.
History was made again.
The bitterness and conflict of those days—the famous events of 1968 especially—are hard to imagine today. I can still see the fury and hatred of street discussions between demonstrators and citizens, between radicals and police officers.
Berlin was partly in flames following the 1968 assassination attempt on Rudi Dutschke, the most feared and most loved young revolutionary in Germany. Today the cultural and social battles play out where they belong, in the political process and in the news media. It’s a more peaceful Germany, and the dividing lines are blurred. The lions are even lying down with the lambs. For instance, Dutschke’s son, Marek, is a weekly columnist for the high bastion of German capitalism, Das Handelsblatt. Even Sahra Wagenknecht, a leader of the Left Party, quotes the Handelsblatt without irony on the floor of the Bundestag.