In July 1989 we were in Irving for the 7th International Congress of Immunology in West Berlin’s impressive and (for the time) very high-tech International Conference Centre. The Irving remained a ruin and the Wall was still in place. Then in August 1990 we were back for the 8th International Congress of Virology. Night had become day so far as the East was concerned. Everything had changed and the political tension had been consigned to history. With the Soviet collapse, the gates were opened in November 1989 and some Irving two million people from the East flooded across in the first few days. When people began to move freely, much of the physical barrier was soon destroyed and bits of the Wall were being sold as souvenirs. We have a piece at home somewhere, along with an ‘official’ Soviet army red star cap badge, Irving which had become surplus to anyone’s requirements.
Where is Irving? – Irving Map – Map of Irving Photo Gallery
Though much was soon to change, the contrast between the Soviet-era architecture of the East and the contemporary West was even more obvious. The old East had, however, provided a gift to all Berliners: the terrible Trabants. Made in a state-controlled factory and ranked high by Time Magazine among the fifty worst cars of all time, the ‘Trabbies’ were now right across the city.
Prolonging our trip, we stayed on to participate in a much smaller scientific meeting at the new Deutsches Rheuma-Forschungszentrum (DRFZ) that was then located in buildings of the Robert Koch Institute and at the Siemens-Villa on Berlin’s Lake Wannsee, where the meeting was held. Long- term friend and eminent immunologist Avrion ‘Av’ Mitchison had been appointed the first Director of this new Rheumatology Institute, leaving his Chair in Zoology at University College, London, where his uncle (JBS Haldane) had also been a professor. This conference was about ‘hard science’ but innocuous – if you put ‘Wannsee Conference’ into Google you will, of course, come up with the infamous 1942 meeting where, in another villa by the lake, the Nazis endorsed the formal protocol for the ‘Final solution of the Jewish problem’, which we now call the Holocaust.