The Berlin Wall: Nearly 20 years later
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While out with some Germans I had been drinking with at Oktoberfest, I had a conversation that I wish I could remember the whole of. He grew up in East Berlin and was 18 when the Berlin Wall came down. He had family in the West that he rarely got to see, despite only being a couple miles away from. He crossed into the West shortly after the Wall came down and left Berlin shortly thereafter. He doesn’t go home much, but it’s not a place that holds a lot of good memories, so he doesn’t see the point. He never enjoyed growing up under the Iron Curtain...
It’s hard to believe that when I arrived in Berlin, that it had been almost 20 years to the month that the Wall fell. A large part of my decision to come to Berlin was the history surrounding the place. I was only 8 years old when the Wall came down, but it's one of the first major events I remember watching unfold on television (that, and baby Jessica being pulled from the well.) My father still remembers explaining that Germany, where his grandparents had come from, was a “divided” nation. Berlin had this wall that divided the city between East and West. As Americans, we were supposed to be fans of the West. The Soviets and Communists alike, had control of the East. (I’m pretty sure he had to do a little more explaining on the last part.) Even in elementary school, the teachers explained to us 3rd graders what was going on. I’m pretty sure that’s the first lesson on the Civil War I got, when my teacher, Mrs. Duff, explained about how at one time our country was divided between North and South.
So now here I am in Berlin two decades later and there are plenty of reminders that reunification wasn’t that long ago: from the sections of the Wall still standing in Berlin, (the most famous being the East Side Gallery along Muhlenstrasse) to the cobblestone bricks on the road tracing its path.
Earlier that day I had taken the free walking tour of Berlin where our tour guide took us to this section of the Wall. Previously, I had learned the chronology of the ease of borders in the Eastern Bloc and how Berlin tried hard to keep the East Germans from taking advantage of them. I knew other places in Berlin to see remnants of the wall and that if we wanted, there was a memorial of crosses to those who tried, but failed to cross the wall. She ended the tour with an explanation of how the Wall came down. I was already aware of how Gunter Schabowski's lack of preparation before a press conference ultimately led to the fall of the Berlin Wall, but most people on the tour found that information to be new. Based on research I had done prior to my trip, I was under the impression that eventually East Germany wouldn't be able to contain its borders as it had hoped. The peaceful riots in nearby Leipzig and in Berlin's Alexanderplatz, had taken its toll on East German leader Eric Honecker, who eventually resigned. A man named Krenz took over and less than a month later Schabowski took to the podium to discuss new border crossing rules laid out by Krenz. I laughed knowing that one mans misinterpretation of a memo would be all the spark needed for the East to join the West.
I pondered humanity for a long time along this stretch of the Wall.
I just wish I gotten that guy's info in Munich, because now I had even more questions to ask....
I truly believe that some of the most interesting conversations to be had will happen over drinks. Especially as inhibitions lower and curiosity grows greater. No better place to test my theory than after Oktoberfest in
He grew up in
It’s hard to believe that when I arrived in
So now here I was in Berlin two decades later and there were plenty of reminders that reunification wasn’t that long ago: from the sections of the Wall still standing in Berlin, (the most famous being the East Side Gallery along Muhlenstrasse) to the cobblestone bricks on the road tracing its path. I made my connection with the Wall along Niederkirchnerstraße. It was hard to grasp that this chunk of concrete was able to hold so many people from friends, family and freedom. Men with guns were there to reinforce its existence. An estimated 5000 people were able to escape to the West; while a confirmed 125 had their dreams and end collide with bullets. The irony now was that this block of concrete that divided a city for 28 years, was surrounded by a fence to keep souvenir seeking hounds at bay.
Thanks to my conversation in
I pondered humanity for a long time along this stretch of the Wall. Despite knowing its history I still couldn't wrap my finger around what it must have been like. I was fortunate to grow up with the chance to do what I wanted at will. Maybe I led a sort of sheltered small-town life growing up, but I had family scattered around the
I walked away thinking about the flaw in my theory of interesting conversations over drinks--as inhibitions lower, so goes common sense. I was fortunate enough to meet a man who would answer any question I had on life in
Reagan's "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall" speech:
List of the remaining sections of the Wall in Berlin:
Sections of the Wall worldwide:
Link to a walking tour I took in Berlin: