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Young Europeans' thoughts on fall of Berlin Wall

Source: Reuters - Fri 6th Nov 2009

For generations old enough to have lived through it, the opening of the Berlin Wall will be the iconic image of our time - an enduring memory that marked the beginning of the end of the Cold War.

But to many Europeans born around 1989, the far more enduring image is the destruction of the World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001, ushering in the age of global terrorism and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Acutely aware of the interconnectedness of modern life, they worry about their jobs, financial security and the burden of what they see as ever-higher expectations - their own, their peers' and their parents'. Some see the consumerism of the west as too demanding.

Following are some of their comments to Reuters correspondents:

ALEX BEDDOES, 23, client services co-ordinator, London

"I will always remember what I was doing on September 11th. I was sailing and when my sister called to tell me I thought it was a prank call.

"(This is my generation's enduring image) I think probably because of the people jumping out of the buildings, knowing that they didn't stand a chance, and the bravery of the emergency services putting themselves in so much danger. It led to the `War or Terror' for almost this entire decade, an overwhelming effect on foreign policy around the globe and has affected almost every facet of our lives.

"The extra security means that travelling isn't the same, public paranoia has led to the rise of the BNP and other far right parties around Europe and two of my close friends are off to Afghanistan.

"Our parents had fewer worries. They had no student loans, only grants. No worries about buying a house, no difficulties in finding a job, no worries about huge amounts of national debt." 

NICHOLAS PEPPIATT, 23, research executive, London

"Everyday life seems to be easier (for me than for my parents) for example far more food, transport, entertainment options. However, it seems more competitive in the long term. There are no jobs-for-life, fixed retirement age, guaranteed pension etc."

JULIE PIROVANI, French, 16, lycee student shopping at Uniqlo clothes retailer in Paris:

"I see the fall of the Berlin wall as a revolution, the end of a war, the end of separation. It divides two eras - before, it was oppression, people did not have the means to express themselves; afterwards, there was choice, freedom of expression. So yes, it was a change that persisted.

"We haven't arrived at that era at school yet, so I don't know much about what it was actually like before. But we talk about the fall of the wall in my family and it's considered something really joyful.

"I think the defining image of my generation is unemployment, the difficulty of finding work, that's weighing really heavily on young people."

ZSUZSANNA DORGO, 18, student in Hungary

"Some things have changed, some things are better, for sure, but there is still room to improve the situation.

"For example, we could do away with corruption and give more responsibility to the people, allow them to have a greater say in matters, even directly - that is what democracy is about after all. 

"My mom gave birth to me when she was only 19, so every age has its own benefits and drawbacks. My parents had to rely on themselves much more, whereas today, there are obviously 18-year-olds who still have their diapers changed by their parents.

"My parents were in a much more difficult situation, they had to make a living of their own. My mom had to leave her parents' home when she was pregnant with me at the age of 18.

"I was raised to be able to stand up for myself.

"But expectations have changed as well. Today, it is all about learning and learning, whereas in their days work was much more important.

"Today, one (university) degree almost counts for nothing.

Asked if anything sounded good about the old ways, she said: "Not really, my way of thinking is that liberty is all-important. I don't much like restraints, freedom is very important and being able to travel freely, for example, must be given to all. People should not be locked up in cages, we are not animals after all. Freedom must be given to everyone."

ZSOFIA KIS, 23, student in Budapest

Asked about the enduring image of her generation, she said: "The World Trade Center, no doubt about that. That's when the notion of terrorism entered our world."

On whether the end of communism fulfilled its promise: "In the West, it might be so. Here, I don't know. Our lives are different, we can travel freely, and our opportunities, in the long term anyway, are pretty good, but I think that's more of a consequence of our membership in the European Union, not the fall of Communism. Well, I guess so far as EU accession was possible because Communism ended, then that is important. 

"To our parents, consumer objects like jeans, Coca-Cola and such things were the ultimate desire. Now all that is easily accessible. In some sense, consumerism has reached a point when we resent it.

"Our expectations are way higher than our parents' might have been. You have to have the latest cell phones, the latest clothes... but the expectations toward us are higher as well. We are expected to finish university, get good jobs, make lots of money... There were no expectations on our parents like that, not as heavy as that for sure.

"Our parents' generation was much more satisfied with what they had. Everybody just wants more of everything these days.

"(In the old days) there was no unemployment - which you might say is good - but that was artificial. They kept it up at the expense of going deeper and deeper in debt. So that looks good on the surface, but I disagree that would be a good thing. Other than that, not much, to be honest."

ANDRAS MAGYAR, 22, student, Pecs, Hungary

"The World Trade Center terrorist attacks (is my enduring image). I also remember the wars in Iraq and Yugoslavia, but the World Trade Center is the single iconic event that I can recall.

"Yes, I think our generation has a more negative view because of that. At the outset there was a fearsome event. It's something we will have to forget, not remember. We have to move on from it.

"Partly, I guess, it (the fall of the Wall) fulfilled its promise because the system is different, and we can get rid of our leaders if we dislike them.

"That said, the situation right now is very similar to the Communist times. Politicians still don't do what they promised. 

"Only part of that has to do with politics, the biggest difference (from our parents' generation) is probably technology. The internet, the way we communicate and the way our world has shrunk so much.

"Our parents lived in a much more limited world. Both physically, because they were not allowed to travel freely, and considering information. We can talk to anyone for no money, we can find out about anything in a matter of minutes.

"The world now is much less personal, there is much less direct contact among people. I mean, we don't really talk on the phone any more. We just talk online. But mostly we chat, online. I mean, I can't remember the last time I sent a proper email.

"My mom keeps telling me: 'son, there was a time before phones and the internet and all that stuff, when we met in person with our friends.' Well, yeah, whatever.

"It was much safer (in my parents' time), they tell me. There was less crime, and streets were safer. There was a certain kind of freedom in that, a different kind of freedom.

"People stuck together more, there was a tighter community. Part of that was because they had a common enemy - the Communists. But the mandatory state celebrations and workers' union dances, and all that, I mean, that also created a community.

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