Friday, November 7, 2014
25 Years Ago This Week...The Wall
I've been wondering what to write about this week. I'm always torn with the changing of the seasons, and different holidays to discuss. It's been one of those weeks where I'm stuck in bed with my laptop, because I'm sick as a dog, and I struggle with topics. And then it came to me. 25 years ago, November 9th, the mighty Berlin Wall came down. Do you remember where you were when you heard the news? I was in my living room watching it on CNN. I sat up all night long and watched in amazement, as the German people were reunited with friends and family. There are very few events in a lifetime that will stick in your mind til the day you die. I have this one tucked away in my brain as one of the few events that I will always remember. It's one of the very few good events that I will remember. Berlin has touched my life more than once. Berlin is one of those places that connects very deeply with my soul.
When I was young, I thought about joining the military. I went so far as to go for the physical, but then something changed my mind. I was pulled aside by some intelligence officers and they told me that they wanted me to do a six year tour with the intelligence office, and do code breaking on the Berlin Wall. I was scared to death of being so close to a place where my friends families had been held hostage in East Germany. I was scared of all the stories that I'd heard both good and bad. I was scared of Soviets, as we all were back then. I took a pass on the military as a whole. I felt I'd dodged a bullet, but a few years later, I began to wonder. My time would have barely been over, when November 9, 1989 rolled around. I've always wondered if maybe I would have been there on the day that the people began to cross, freely between East and West. Maybe that bullet I dodged was one that I should have taken to heart.
I sat all night and watched the locals break through the wall that separated them from their friends and families. It was one of the most emotional things I ever saw on television. It was the end of an era. It was the end of fear for them. It was a moment of triumph for my friends whose families had escaped from the Soviets and made their home here in America. It was one of the most emotional moments of my life. Was it an accident? Was it a mistake on the part of the East German Bureaucracy? I don't know, and there are still, to this day, about a hundred theories. I don't care what it was. I don't care why it happened. I care that it happened. It was a good day.
Berlin is still a work in progress, but it is a great city. There are many sections of the wall to see. There is a Checkpoint Charlie Museum. There are all kinds of museums, monuments, memorials, and other places that are devoted to educating the general public about the history of Germany and Berlin. You can still spot differences between east and west Berlin. It's a constant reminder of the city's dark past. The people of Berlin love their city. You will find people everywhere that will share their personal stories with you of the dark years of the wall. It's something you will never forget. There are ditches where the wall used to be. The German people will never forget it. They've made a point not to. Just like the bombed out church that reminds them of World War II. Just like the tower of machine guns that reminds them of Hitler. Just like the Brandenburg Gate which reminds them of Napoleon. There is so much history in Berlin that you can't soak it all up in one visit. This is a city that you should visit more than once. It's layered with history. It's modern and the people are amazingly open and friendly.
Two years after the wall fell, I got my big chance. I was invited to go with a group of students to several places in Eastern and Western Europe. One of those places was Berlin. When we went there, they were still tearing down the wall. A bunch of us visited the Brandenburg Gate where the demolition crews were still tearing down the wall. The workers were outgoing, and they all told us their stories about reuniting with their families and how honored they were to be the ones hired to demolish most of the wall. They felt honored and that they had been a part of history. It was moving to hear the stories of men who had in the last two years finally been able to see their grandmothers, grandfathers, cousins, and so many more. It was heartwarming. The workers allowed each of us to take a sledge hammer and knock off our own pieces of the wall. I keep them to this day. Those pieces of that wall are the most important souvenirs I've ever gotten anywhere. I cherish them along with the stories that I was told by real people who lived with that wall.
So much has changed. The once Soviet signs of strength and solidarity are now historic monuments to times gone by. Berlin moves forward. They are going in the right direction. 25 years have passed, and the world has changed. The city of Berlin has changed. There are many who are too young to remember the wall in all it's Soviet Glory. Us old folks will never forget. We will walk the pieces of the wall that are left and remember a time of great celebration. We will visit the Checkpoint Charlie Museum and remember a time of fear and loathing. We will walk down the Kurfurstendam and remember that it was not that long ago that it stopped at the wall. We will visit the dozen or more sites around the globe where pieces of the wall are proudly exhibited so that no one around the world will forget.
25 years ago the wall was breached and a country was reunited. A couple of years later, I got my chance to see the remains and sit on top of that wall. I've seen a lot in my lifetime. One of the greatest places that I ever saw was Berlin. It's a town that never sleeps. It's a town of beautiful parks, amazing museums, open air history, fabulous architecture, great food, gorgeous art, and people that you will never forget. Come to Berlin to celebrate 25 years since that wall came down. Come to celebrate. Come to learn. Come to see what this amazing city has become.