A scar of bitterness runs through Europe’s heart as Germany’s east continues to lag behind its west. But the wall that caused it is gone and for all who bore witness in Berlin and the world over, the unbridled joy of that turning-point knows no equal.

Memory of that night 30 years ago today, be it personal or the kind of memory which is embedded in the cultural fabric, is so potent because it was at once an event of such enormous symbolic importance, as well as bearing immediate physical meaning. Divided families came together at the focal point of their separation, knowing in that moment the separation was no more.

British and American commentators wasted no time in discussing the symbolic meaning, the wider implications for an empire set for collapse. Perhaps they underestimated the emotion of being on a street in your own city that has been barred to you until now, or simply seeing the other side of the Brandenburg Gate.

The next morning, the wall itself remained very much in place (for all the chipping away Berliners did the night before) but the division it represented had vanished. Thirty years later, the wall is gone but the disconnect its architects hoped for remains in place.

History did not stop, as much as the wall and the German Democratic Republic are consigned to it. Their legacies become essential parts of the story.

As we approach Remembrance Day, it is timely to remember that a legacy is not merely a hangover from that past with which we are stuck but something that is within our power to control. We ask ourselves as governments, citizens, and voters, “What does this mean and where do we go from here?”

Germany’s response to the fall of the Berlin Wall forms part of the story. With their joy came haste. A haste content on erasing the wall and the state which put it up as if neither had ever existed. But they did, and this misstep ensured the world would remember for a long time.

The Stasi disappeared, to mass relief, but so did most people’s jobs. Young former east Germans upped sticks and moved west. Some 80 per cent of citizens still living in the eastern states are believed to have been unemployed at some point since the wall came down.

One day, not even a year after the first hammer blows struck the monstrous edifice, millions of East Germans woke up in a different country. Theirs had been swallowed whole. For West Germans, the heady celebrations of a country at last reunited ebbed and life went back to normal. For new citizens of the Federal Republic the pace of change as their community-focused spirit was destroyed was disorientating. For them, nothing would ever be the same again.

The Bundesrepublik can probably be forgiven for its haste and unsuitable methods – there is indeed no instruction manual for how to merge a communist country and a capitalist one. But few will be rushing to pen one with Germany as its defining example.

The eagerness to erase and assimilate the GDR has so far ensured it has not properly managed either. Many in the former east came to feel other emotions besides jubilation when conjuring up the memory of the wall coming down. It is not unreasonable to imagine a slower economic assimilation would have brought a better outcome for former GDR citizens, to whom reunification instead brought brain drain, unemployment and luxury products they could not afford appearing on shelves.

In February last year the Berlin Wall was gone for longer than it was ever there. It is simpler to view reunification as a moment, completed if not within a day, certainly within a few years. That must have been the Bundesrepublik’s assumption to have provoked such a rushed process. But that view is wrong.

Reunification is and will in some way always be an ongoing process. Germany must now reflect upon and debate what reunification means now.

It cannot merely be commemorated today as a past event; all Germans and those of us with a connection to the German people or desire to see the whole country thrive must re-evaluate what is lacking for genuine unity to prevail.

There have been welcome movements on this. Marking last month’s 29th anniversary of reunification, Chancellor Angela Merkel told her fellow citizens: “We must learn to understand why reunification for many people in eastern states is not solely a positive experience.”

Learning this with a willing mind is the start. Drawing conclusions and acting on what was learnt must follow. There will be no other way to reduce the right-wing, anti-refugee Alternative fur Deutschland’s electoral appeal in the eastern states. But if the desire to change comes from hoping for electoral gain alone, I doubt much will be achieved. A new generation has come of age, and younger eastern Germans are asking their leaders why it is the state failed their parents so remarkably.

It is time we apply the word trauma to the reunification process and Easterners’ experience of it. The words we use can empower, in giving expression to emotions too complex and raw to comprehend without a distance not afforded to those most caught up in the system overhaul.

After the wall “fell”, the few voices calling for calm before deciding what to do with it, how much to remove and how to use the space, were drowned out, and within a year it was gone bar a few strips and select slabs in major squares. The late architect Zaha Hadid proposed a long, narrow park in the city centre where the wall ran, but the understandable desire to erase it won out.

Instead a double line of bricks marks its whole route, often slicing streets diagonally, the bricks running up to houses and out the other side. It is in witnessing such scenes that the wall’s full horror strikes those of us who never knew it. Families, a city, country and continent wrought apart.

Free movement in the EU forms part of the legacy and Germans’ enduring memory of the wall tells us why they cannot fathom how nearly 52% of British voters opted to lose it.

Some in the UK may need reminding that our neighbours do not insist upon this personal freedom as a fixture of our continent’s future purely for the love of annoying Brexiters. We are the lucky ones for not having needed to grasp its full value.

Today our act of remembering that watershed moment in Germany, Europe and the world’s history must take place in the knowledge that the meaning it holds remains ours to write through how we take its legacy forward. The scar need not last forever.