Love? Unity, Actually.
Unity, unlike love, is conditional.
'Shit! It closes in 5 minutes!'
We bolted to the Czechoslovakian embassy in East Berlin. It was December 1990 and, inspired by the city's recently decommissioned wall, my uni mate and I were keen to spend a few days in the former Eastern Bloc.
Also, we heard that beer - and everything in Prague - was cheap.
A heavy user of brylcreem, the surly Czech 'diplomat' was dressed in a shiny black suit, white shirt and wide black tie. Deeply suspicious of our frantic enthusiasm , he took his time scrutinising our passports but finally glued in the visas and sent us on our way.
We fronted up to the Prague youth hostel. The cheap beer news had ripped through the 'hostelhead' community and there was no room at the inn.
So, obviously, we joined a random group of backpackers* loitering around the náměstí to find a cheap hotel.
The group included Mark, a lofty Dutch business student at The University of Groningen travelling with his charming and even loftier friend, Roderik.
And yes, dear reader, Mark was a spunk.
Heady, gothic, theatrical Praha.
The Cold War thawing in real time.
Rocking out at a nightclub to the latest hits from the free west.
Downing litres of cold Pils with a hot Dutchman.
You get the idea.
Yep, it was my idea of a good time.
And a very good time it was.
The unplanned iconic week in Praha concluded just before Christmas.
I visted Mark in Groningen later in my trip, but without the Bohemian 'rhapsody', the union could not be revived.
I flew back to Australia with a fractured, but not broken, heart and a developing interest in German reunification and this new thing called The European Union.
So of course I did what any young, red blooded single woman would do in this situation.
I read a book about it.
In Euroquake, Burstein (author of YEN! (YES!)) writes excitedly about the four thickening plots driving the European drama of the 1990s.
The 12 member single market club in Brussels feverishly working to their NYE 1992 deadline; the birth of one Germany with its compelling promise of Wirtschaftswunder (economic miracle); the 100 million Warsaw Pact compatriots falling over themselves to finally eat a Big Mac ; and over in Moscow, Mikhail Gorbachev was vigorously implementing his vision of perestroika .
Aside from painting an 'explosive' picture of the upcoming European suprastate, Burstein makes 100 mindsnapping eco-political predictions.
How many of the 100 came to pass? That is a subject for someone else's blog.
But looking at the cover you could say:
Yes. But in 2002.**
Oh, he did not predict BREXIT.
Everyone has 20/20 hindsight. But Britain has always had a thorny relationship with 'the continent' and a pretty sketchy sense of European identity.
In 1930, Winston Churchill wrote: “We are with Europe but not of it. We are linked but not comprised.”
Yet he also spoke positively about the creation of a “United States of Europe”.
Much of this complication can be explained by geography.
Being an island nation gave Britain the settled borders that its European neighbours long lacked.
Powerful institutions such as the monarchy, parliament and the church provided Great Britain with a stability unmatched in other European countries.
That's why when EU countries signed up to The Treaty of Rome in 1957, Britain decided it was better off staying single.
Finally, in 1973, the United Kingdom joined the party because its economy was tanking and the imperial vibe was losing its swag. So the 1975 referendum result was a REMAINER.
By 2015, the EU deal had transformed from an intimate free trade cocktail party of 9 countries to a noisy political moshpit of 28.
The Iron Curtain had conveniently kept the guestlist exclusive, but as the Soviet Bloc crumbled and the borders opened, Old Blighty was getting miffed about funny sounding gate crashers.
By 2016, it was time to break up. Nigel was ecstatic.
And like most most break ups, there was aftermath.
Ironically, the UK has devoted more foreign policy energy and effort to the EU than it did to the wider world over the last 4 years.
Boris shut up shop at midnight on 31 DEC 2020.
Perhaps when a union is over, a nation turns its lonely eyes to a past that never really existed?
Real memories of backpacker-hostel-class economic hardship and fading imperial prestige are nostagically replaced by visions of a magical British past of single-life splendour and free-trade beer.
You might be wondering : did I ever see Mark again?
Oddly, we reconnected in 2010 thanks to the mainstream adoption of the information superhighway and a shared involvement in amplification devices (another story).
In 2015 I was in northern Europe for work so we met for drinks and dinner in Amsterdam. It was a geweldig Generation-X-in-middle-age night on the town. We knocked back a few vaasjes of bieren at a very trad bruin cafe, enjoyed a Dutch East Indies feast and talked life, geo politics, business and Praha.
No dancing this time.
We continue to randomly email each other about world events like (any) US election, the Olympics and the World Cup (soccer, of course).
A few weeks ago, I asked Mark for permission to write about the Prague story. He remarked that it was a very interesting time and that the trip made a lasting impact on him.
As a student he was intrigued by the events that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall and Iron Curtain. He picked up Eastern European regional studies at Uni whilst I became friends with Euroquake and Vaclav Havel on the tram to work.
Whether it's a holiday liaison or 40 years of membership in a single market, a union is defined by the circumstances surrounding it. It is conditional on ideas and desires; on circumstances and context. It suits both parties for that time.
If you are very lucky, you might be able to keep some extraordinary features of the union bright and shiny in your mind.
Like the aftermath of the Velvet Revolution surrounded by the hallmarks of communism before they became the ghosts of today.
And I can’t help but feel richer for having shared a small slice of that life together.
*2 Dutchmen, 2 Egyptians, 2 Victorians, an American and a Queenslander. They walked into many bars.
**The original name was the European Monetary Unit (EMU)!
***Burstein was enraptured by the idea of the Mitsubishi Daimler Benz alliance. It only lasted 8 years. Thanks to a massive recall cover up and tanking profits, the alliance called it quits in 2006.