Column: Big Bird in Berlin14 November 2009 Zie Nederlandse versie
by Arnold Jansen op de Haar
I tried to explain to Big Bird this week: ‘The two figures who walked through the Brandenburg Gate were not Bert and Ernie.’ ‘Really?’ said Big Bird surprised, ‘but they very much looked like that couple.’
I had to explain to him that he had seen Angela Merkel and Hillary Clinton. By coincidence they happened to be wearing the same type of clothes and hairdo.
Big Bird was already distracted again. ‘Cookie Monster!’ he screamed, looking frightened. This actually turned out to be Gordon Brown.
This kind of thing happens when the remembrance ceremony of the 20th anniversary of the collapse of the Berlin Wall coincides with the 40th anniversary of Sesame Street.
It was gray and rainy in Berlin, good Cold War weather. Lech Walesa’s famous moustache looked even more sorrowful than usual, understandably because, just after having pushed the first of the dominoes, he himself was pushed away by an overzealous cameraman.
Big Bird got overexcited when he saw the falling dominoes; still I did explain to him that this was a typical example of a German joke. ‘And why?’ I said to Big Bird, ‘Well, because during the 1950s, that’s in the last century, President Eisenhower proposed the Domino Theory.
If Indochina would succumb to communism more countries most certainly would follow: like a row of tumbling dominoes.’
‘I don’t understand it at all,’ said a confused Big Bird. I reassured him: ‘Before we happily settle down to learn more about the alphabet, I'll make it all clear.’
So I explained to Big Bird that the Germans had inverted the theory. The tumbling dominoes represented the changing of regimes in Eastern European countries.
‘I am not sure how they reported this event in the news broadcast on Russian television but I wouldn’t be surprised if they called it a German joke.’
‘Big Bird, did you actually appear on television in the former East Germany?’ I asked. ‘Nein,’ answered Big Bird as if he was being dubbed on the spot.
A few moments later I found him digging a tunnel. This was triggered by Michael Gorbachev, who had arrived on the scene in a leather jacket. Only Big Bird’s rather large legs were still visible.
From within his hideout he shouted in a wavering voice: ‘A very frightening jacket!’
I must admit I agreed with Big Bird; the former Soviet leader could have donned a more appropriate outfit. The one he had chosen made him look like a Stasi officer.
Actually, I grew up in a pre-Sesame Street world. When Sesame Street made its first appearance on Dutch television I had moved on from children’s TV and I was well into puberty and thus far more interested in pop sensation Blondie.
Isn’t it interesting that the ceremonies around the remembrance of the collapse of the Berlin Wall brought a popular children’s program to my attention?
Someone in Germany must have thought it important that the Berlin Wall remembrance should be both educational and amusing, and probably, during a meeting on a rainy afternoon the dominoes concept just seemed to fit the requirements.
I do feel sorry for the representatives from the Eastern European bloc. They have lost everything and yet are expected to join the party. Russian president Medvedev was a good example, his face said it all: ‘What the hell am I doing here?’
I looked at Big Bird and informed him: ‘Do you know you’re not yellow but blue on Dutch television?’ He didn’t know but looked quite uncomfortable on hearing this.
Well, to cheer him up we went on a Trabi Safari. No, I'm not making this up, it really exists. You actually travel through the city in a Trabi.
In our case we hired a convertible, so that we could open the roof to accommodate Big Bird. ‘Your tour guide gives you information about the city, the country, its people and customs.’ Just what we needed.
‘And after the tour is finished you will receive your Trabi Drivers Licence.’ Now you are talking! This time Big Bird and I were really excited.
‘A Trabi Safari is the ideal outing for couples, friends and small groups of people.’ Picture me together with a somewhat oversized yellow bird which cannot even fly in a somewhat undersized Eastern German car. What about my image?
‘Do you know that in Germany we have eight streets called Sesamstrasse?’ asked our tour guide. We didn’t, but we do now.
What we can be certain of is that from now on the anniversaries of the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the birth of Sesame Street will fall on the same day and are forever linked.
Big Bird gave us a final pearl of his wisdom: ‘They should have taken a leaf out of our book and put the alphabet on the dominoes, it would have been even more instructive.’
© Arnold Jansen op de Haar
© Translation Holland Park Press
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