On November 9 1989 the Berlin Wall ceased to be a barrier. It wasn’t demolished, but the gates were opened and easterners were free to visit the west.

So no doubt there will be great celebrations in November next year when the 20th anniversary arrives.

However an important milestone was reached this week. On Monday the wall had been gone for precisely 28 years, two months and 27 days - exactly the same length of time that it stood.

And I was there just days before it was breached. In October 1989 I was on a trip to West Berlin for A Level German students, and probably the most exciting part of it for any of us - after we’d discovered Der Irish Pub - was the day we visited the east.

It somehow seemed more German than the western half, which boasted McDonald’s, Burger King, Coca-Cola and flash cars and looked like it could have been in America.

It’s true that eastern Europe was beginning to liberalise after Gorbachev had come to power and Russia relaxed its tight grip on its satellite states.

But no-one thought anything was about to happen.

We were speaking to east Berliners in the streets about their lives, how much they earned, how far they were allowed to travel and so on. They were all rather personal questions but what was fascinating was how willing they were to talk - apparently without fearing they’d be picked up and carted off by the Stasi.

Yet there was general scepticism about the prospects for reform. East Germany was one of the strictest eastern bloc countries and the most optimistic person we spoke to said that perhaps within the next 10 years things would begin to change. It wasn’t expected within the next 10 days.

Yet we got home to find the place we’d just been all over the TV news. An endless party seemed to be taking place on top of the wall. If I ever go back, I thought at the time, it’s going to look very different.

The Berlin Wall was 10 years older than me, having been built in a hurry in August 1961, and everyone believed it was there to stay.

The Communist authorities in the east called it the “anti-fascist protection wall”, which can’t have fooled anyone. It was there to keep people in and at least 140 were killed trying to escape, though the exact number is uncertain and probably higher.

The most tragic must be the last attempted escaper Winfried Freudenberger, who was just 32 when he was killed in March 1989, trying to get to the west in a hot air balloon. If he’d waited seven months he could just have walked across.

Only old people who remembered the Nazi era really supported East Germany. When the wall came down, Germany was reunited, its capital returned to Berlin and most people celebrated it.

However I remember some who were less enthusiastic about what a bigger Germany would mean. They weren’t against the end of a repressive regime, but they had their misgivings.

The German author Günter Grass often wrote and spoke against it, arguing that a unified Germany might resume its role as an aggressive nation.

One Frenchman said he liked Germany so much he had always been pleased there were two of them.

British holidaymakers probably feared that with more Germans it would become even harder to get a sun lounger on a Spanish beach.

What I wondered was whether Germany was really a country at all.

To me, German is not the language of a nation, but a central European language spoken by 95 million people in a selection of countries, including Austria, Switzerland, parts of Belgium, eastern France, the western Czech Republic and pockets of Poland.

They also include countries like Prussia, Bavaria, Saxony and the Rhineland that came together in 1871 for the next 74 years.

German doesn’t belong to one nation any more than English belongs to England alone or Spanish is the sole property of Spain. It didn't have to become one country again.

When they were demolishing the wall the Channel Tunnel was under contruction, and I always thought we missed a trick.

Why did nobody think to take all the chalk and rubble from the tunnel, spray-paint it in gaudy colours and sell bits of it off as genuine pieces of the Berlin Wall?