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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Humorous and informative, an exiting account of titanic change, 25 Sep 2009
By 
A Common Reader "Committed to reading" (Sussex, England) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
Twenty years ago I sat in front of my television watching crowds stream through the Brandenburg Gate as the East German border guards finally gave up the job of trying to prevent people crossing from one side of the Berlin Wall to the other. Anyone with a sense of history could not help but share in the jubilation as a whole nation was set free from the vast prison camp which was East Germany.

Peter Millar, a Sunday Times journalist, was present as these historic events happened around him, and his long years of living in East Germany and Russia have equipped him to write a vibrant and involved account of 1989 and the preceding years leading up to the year of liberation.

I enjoyed reading 1989 The Berlin Wall: My Part in its Downfall as much as anything I have read this year. Millar's eye-witness accounts of his time in Berlin provide a ground-level view of events and serve as a useful counterpoint to the other, more scholarly books on the period which have been recently published such as Victor Sebestyen's Revolution 1989 (review to follow).

Despite being a "serious" journalist (Foreign Correspondent of the Year, 1989 etc), Millar has adopted an almost Bryson-esque approach to his description of his life, first as a young Reuter's correspondent and then as a journalist on national newspapers. While his newspaper articles were serious and weighty pieces, there is obviously a humorist in his psyche too.

Millar began writing professionally in the days of Remington typewriters, and rapidly learned the skills of his trade, particularly building a readable story from the barest of facts. After serving his apprenticeship in the London office, he was despatched to East Berlin, where after crossing from West Berlin to take up his appointment he finds himself in the time-warped world of Communism. He both lived and worked in the Reuter's apartment, which he shared with an East German administrator, Erdmute (which means Earth Mother), and a young cleaner, Helga, whose charms he manages to resist despite her advances (was she a state-planted "honey pot"? Probably, as is shown by her departure when Millar marries his English fiancée).

Millar's first task is to pass his driving test, and after passing his theory test (was the examiner's hints as his love for a bottle of French Brandy anything to do with this?), he finds himself taking his practical test in a state-owned Lada with another candidate also being examined in the same car. Nothing in East Germany is simple, least of all the transport system, with the railways which crossed the town being cut off at the border and terminus stations being created where trains had previously passed through. The crossing points of the wall are a constant irritation, with the endless checks of papers and packages, but Millar learns to endure these and even gets to know one of the guards rather well.

Despite the inconveniences of daily life, Millar manages to make many local friends, not least by spending time in the local bar where eventually he is accepted as a regular customer. Building relationships is made much more difficult by the constant fear that people he meets could be Stasi informers, or worse, that he might incriminate innocent East Germans in the eyes of the State by mixing with them. When the STASI secret police are eventually disbanded, Millar eventually gets to look at his files and discovers an astonishing level of surveillance during which he was frequently followed even on shopping trips and conversations in the apartment were electronically monitored almost continually.

This all provides entertaining background, but the book focuses on 1989 when the Communist world was finally imploding, with President Gorbachev refusing to support the aging dinosaur leaderships in the Russian satellite countries. Following the failure of Czechoslovakia to maintain border controls with East Germany, thousands of East Germans leave their country and flock to the West. The Berlin Wall becomes an untenable barrier and on one glorious night, 9 November 1989, the wall is finally and irrevocably breached.

Millar's account of the glorious night when East German's flooded west is as good as any and captures the joy and celebration of these earth-shaking events. This is one of those books which I think should be on everybody's shelves and I recommend it highly for its success in making this phase of European history accessible to people who wouldn't normally read books on political history.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Funny and serious too, 21 Oct 2009
This is much better than the normal journalist-looks-back book. It's good fun and you learn a lot too. Peter Millar is an excellent writer and also a committed pub man. So some of this book is communism seen from the life of a small East German bar, the Metzer Eck. (And no, Millar is not the typical drunk hack seeing life in beery cliches!). This turns out to be a surprisingly interesting way of seeing it. Insightful, you might say, except that it's such a dreadful word.
Read it for the history but also read it for the way it tells you about real journalism. As newspapers shrink and fail, and news is stuff put out by celebrities PR, this will remind you of a world of proper news that we are losing.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Time to come, 2 Dec 2012
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I agree with all the good things said about this book. Just like to add that it'll probably be regarded as a source document to future historians. That is, if historians in the future are unlike today's brats - interested in what happened.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars what a wonderful book!, 28 Jan 2011
By 
Crisdean "Crisdean" (Edinburgh, Scotland) - See all my reviews
I have just finished this book. I was in Berlin a year after the wall came down; though it was down, it was so easy to know when you were in the west side or the east; it was like going into a time vortex back several decades. I'm about to go back soon for so intriqued by his experience. I've also been to Moscow, and was interested in his diversion there. I did thing he would have a right wing attitude due to the newspaper he'd worked for - but also Reuters, but he was not. His experiences were fascinatin, and it is good that he could get so close to east berliners that they opened to him as to their real feelings; but he wss no standbyer, he was part of the environment.

I just finished it last night, and in the last few pages he makes very pertinent comments about our situation in the U.K in relation to the old East German state.

Fascinating book and would recommend it to anyone interested in the topic
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is Real, 5 Oct 2009
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This is not a work of fiction, its not even a retrospective description of past events by a historian, but an account of events many us remember watching from afar, with scant understanding of the issues and significance at the time. Peter Millar was there, living on the eastern side of town, with the people, reporting on their often ordinary daily lives when something extraordinary started to happen around him.
Taking much of its text from his reporting of the time, this is not history re-written with the benefit of hindsight, but live reporting of events as they happen, with the benefit of years of experience, reflection and analysis.

Even if you don't enjoy "history" and you feel the events in this book have no relevance to your life today, you should read this book, because they do.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good story, 13 Nov 2012
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This review is from: 1989: The Berlin Wall: My Part in Its Downfall (Kindle Edition)
Well written, easy to read and very entertaining. A great insight into East Berlin in the 80s before the Wall came down.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A breath of fresh air., 15 Feb 2010
By 
P. Butler "Book Muncher" (Sheffield, England) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Peter Miller wasn't just passing through. In 1981 he and his wife set up their first marital home in East Berlin.

He shares with us the trials and tribulations of starting a new life in a Police State. Miller has a dry sense of humor, and a refreshing way of seeing the world. Not your typical hack! For example, he recalls his driving lessions, and driving test in East Berlin.

What he is very good at is discribing people. He became a regular in his local bar, and made close friendships with many East Germans. In the book he paints a good mental picture of these people, and their life history. So when The Wall comes down, we are seeing it through the eyes of all the charicters we have come to know through the book.

Miller also describes his time working in Mascow, London, and as the Central Europe Correspondent.

Some years after the fall of The Wall he was able to read the file that The Stasi had compiled on him. He sees ther funny side of that as well!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 1989 The Berlin Wall My Part in its Downfall by Peter Millar, 3 Dec 2009
By 
E. Callway (London UK) - See all my reviews
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I was a contemporary of Peter Millar in East Berlin. I was posted to our Embassy there in 1981 and left in 1984. I met Peter and his wife occasionally socially but not professionally. Like Peter I drilled down quite deeply into East German society: my personal social contacts were developed through family links and not at a local Kneipe. And like Peter, my activities excited some interest from the ubiquitous Stasi. My Stasi codename was Vogel: like Peter, I have no idea why they settled on that particular codename. Perhaps my Stasi case officer thought I resembled Charlie `Bird' Parker, the jazz saxophonist in some bizarre way. Sadly, I was not in Berlin 1989 to witness the opening of the Wall, but I was able to telephone a friend - and very distant relative - on the fateful night in November and urge him to get out of bed and go down to the sector crossing at Bornhomerstraße and join in the celebrations. His vivid written account of the scene and his expedition into West Berlin is kept with my copy of my Stasi file and is among my most treasured possessions. It brings tears to my eyes whenever I read it.

It was because of my having met Peter in East Berlin and our shared experiences there that I looked forward to reading his book. I was hooked from the very beginning. His skilful scene-setting perfectly captured the curious state of schizophrenia experienced by expatriate `border-crossers' who could freely flit across from the shortages and grey deprivations of the East to the glitter and excessive consumerism of the West. And in the process developing a peculiar relationship with border Guards, such as the glamorous Rita. Younger colleagues at the Embassy would fantasize about the love-bites that would from time to time appear on Rita's neck! Peter's descriptions of the Berliners he met at his corner Kneipe are priceless and spot-on: I can sense the atmosphere and hear the Berliner dialect - with its ick instead of ich and its soft jut for gut. Reading it, I felt I, too, could have joined him and his mates at the Stammtisch. Like Peter, I valued enormously the special depth and closeness of friendships developed in the East. Although being with the Embassy, I was spared some of the East German bureaucracy Peter encountered, I saw enough of it to be able to vouch for the authenticity of his descriptions, and in retrospect, to laugh at its petty absurdities. The frustrations and delights of East German life are all there. Peter also rightly devotes a chapter to life with the Stasi. It is hard for those who have not experienced a surveillance society to comprehend the extent of the East German national resources devoted to spying on fellow citizens and foreign residents. Peter covers the ground thoroughly but with a wry sense of humour. But as Peter points out, one perverse benefit of all the surveillance was that the streets of East Berlin in the early `80s were very safe.

Peter has brilliantly and amusingly, and for me, emotionally, captured what it was like to live in East Berlin in the `80s. His account of the night the Wall fell is simply wonderful. Whether you had links with former GDR or not, this book is a good read and one I can warmly recommend
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A view from the East, 18 Nov 2009
This book tells the story of the Wall coming down largely through the eyes of those who had most reason to celebrate: the East Germans who had lived behind it for decades. It's a perspective not many reporters offered at the time because few had lived there as long as Millar and even fewer shared either his command of the language or the unbridled enthusiasm for pub life that allowed him to build real empathy with an endearing cast of characters. There's a feel for real people here that is lacking in much of the triumphalist wallowing over the current anniversary.
The book also gives a comprehensive and unblushing response to the often-asked question: Where does news come from? The answer emerges through hilarious anecdote and biographical detail and is about as authentic as it gets - that's praise from someone who has spent decades in the same business. It should be required reading for any aspiring journalist.
In the final chapters he turns from his irrepressible reportage to an irresistible rant. One worth reading both for its comments on the British attitude to `Europe' and on the perils of our present surveillance society - not quite the Stasi but...
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A thoroughly good read, 8 Nov 2009
By 
Terry Williams "mkali48" (Lozere, France) - See all my reviews
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The Economist has rated this the best of all the books published to mark the fall of the Berlin Wall. I haven't read the others but it would be hard to beat Peter Millar's account. It's quirky, funny and irreverent, telling the story from the point of view of his sometimes eccentric East German friends. The thoughtful analysis and insight into the events of 1989 are there but woven into the stream of anecdotes which make this book so much fun to read.
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