Aram Radomski is the guy who had the fortune, by several accounts, to be the first Berliner to walk through the Wall that cold night 20 years ago.
In that moment, after the young photographer had persuaded the guard at Bornholmer Strasse checkpoint that there was no point keeping the gate closed any more, the world seemed to come together. For the first time in a generation, everyone, in the two worlds of East and West, seemed to be feeling the same thing at once.
What came next is another matter.
Mr. Radomski and thousands of other East Berliners had strolled around the West for the first time in their lives and had been bought beers all night by incredulous Westerners. Only in the sober light of morning, did it dawn on him.
"I realized then that my whole life before had meant nothing," he recalls. "Nothing I had learned in school, none of my jobs were of any use. I had to figure out how the West works. We hadn't learned that in school - we'd learned the opposite."
The opening of the Wall, the 20th anniversary of which will be the subject of a huge celebration and a gathering of European leaders in Berlin Monday, was a euphoric moment for most of the 16 million citizens of East Germany, and led quickly to the end of communism and the reunification of Germany the next year.
But for a great many of them, it meant that their entire world had suddenly collapsed, and the future had disappeared. Many of them have still not recovered.
For the educated elite of the German Democratic Republic, as the advanced communist country on the Wall's east side was known, it was catastrophic. Overnight, beginning on Nov. 9, 1989, an entire generation of easterners had their entire past erased, along with it all their credentials and hopes. The entire social, educational and professional system that guaranteed them a future was suddenly worse than useless; it was a strike against them.
Mr. Radomski had his own troubles: In the East, he'd been a photographic star, using his cheap camera to snap stealth photos of the demonstrations and crackdowns of communism's final days, and having them smuggled across the Iron Curtain.
Days after the Wall opened, Western photographers with far better training and expensive equipment entered East Germany, and Mr. Radomski realized he could never make his living as a photographer again.
It was far worse for those who were part of the system. Mr. Radomski watched many of his friends plummet into depression, perennial joblessness, alcoholism, institutionalization or worse.
"Some are dead," he said the other day in his small shop not far from the old checkpoint. "A lot of my middle-class friends in the GDR said, 'This is just more than I can handle.' They dropped out, they said 'I'm not prepared to take the leap' - and those are the ones who missed the boat. They were stuck then, and they're still stuck today."
The morning of Nov. 10, 1989, was a cold awakening for East Germans such as Klaus Laabs. The son of a senior Communist Party official, he had been sent by his father through special schools for party members, and then to Moscow's State Institute for International Relations - the place where the top-level apparatchiks of the Eastern bloc were trained. In his early 20s in the 1980s, he had every reason to expect a comfortable future.
And then the Wall opened, giving him the vertiginous experience of losing any meaning or identity as another future came pouring in.
"I remember that I was absolutely paralyzed in the first weeks and the first months. I felt like it was not what I had hoped for," he says.
One of his good friends, a songwriter in East Germany, committed suicide on Nov. 9, 1993, the fourth anniversary of the Wall's fall, because he didn't find his way in the new society.
One of the big problems was that East Germany didn't have its own home-grown opposition who could take office after Nov. 9, allowing East Germans to shift into a new hierarchy. Instead, the country was simply absorbed into the existing West German government and political system.
A few people thrived, among them Chancellor Angela Merkel, who shifted neatly from the East European communist bureaucracy into the mainstream conservative Christian Democratic Party. But few others managed this.
Unlike Poland or Czechoslovakia, where both dissidents and former apparatchiks were able to form political parties or join the bureaucracy, in East Germany neither were welcome.
Rather than becoming agents of their own fate, the "Ossies," as former East Germans are still derisively known here, became wards of the German state.
A study released recently by the Halle Institute for Economic Research found that the German government has spent €1.3-trillion during the past 20 years on funds to bring the East up to nationwide social and economic standards. Two-thirds of this money has been spent on social-assistance payments, including job retraining schemes intended to eliminate the education gap.
No other East European country was lavished with such generous "adjustment funds." But the result has not been miraculous. In fact, if the old GDR were still a separate nation, studies have found that its economic standards would lag behind those of neighbouring Poland and the Czech Republic.
Part of that, many people here believe, is because so many elite East Germans became lost: The new Western-controlled government and corporate sector distrusted their experiences, and they didn't know how to enter the tight-knit social networks, built up in years of schooling, that are the main pathways to success in Germany.
"It's not nearly over," says Mr. Radomski, who now runs a successful business turning digital image files into wallpaper for interior designers.
He spends his spare time visiting his old East German friends who've fallen over the edge, and he raises his children - whose adulthood, he feels, will mark the beginning of the end of the east-west chasm. "It'll take at least three generations: our kids will have to get to know each other first," he says. "Only when they've forgotten about the Wall will any of us be normal."