Monday, November 9, 2009

The Berlin Wall...My Personal Connection

The picture of the Berlin wall falling twenty years ago tonight is still crystal clear in my mind. It was a turning point in history. I was glued to the television and could hardly believe what I saw. There was doubt throughout the whole evening as we did not know if the army and/or police would come out and attack the crowd. There was the odd camera shot of police around corners and behind buildings, but they did not attempt to disperse the crowd. Later, we saw pictures of police officers abandoning their posts and some even joining the crowd in celebration. It was truly a momentous night.

The personal connection is a bit of a stretch, but I really like this story...
My wife toured Europe with four friends in the early sixties. These were the days when you really could "see Europe on five dollars a day". They hitch-hiked into West Berlin. You had to be picked up at a certain spot, and then drive the Autobahn through to West Berlin without stopping. A very friendly West German picked them up, and not only found lodging for them, but toured them around the city. It was a very fortunate contact, and my wife kept in touch with him for many years afterwards.

She remembers the beauty of the city and seeing the wall. One thing that shocked her, however, was how the wall was built through the midddle of a church. She was also struck by the crosses and flowers which marked places where people died as they were trying to escape East Germany by climbing the wall.

The kicker in her trip to West Berlin was that the whole time she was there, the Cuban Missile Crisis was taking place. Of course, they knew nothing about these events. They were in a foreign country and were not able to follow the news (not that she was much interested in current events to begin with). However, the trip had a major influence on her life.


  1. I also remember when the fall of the wall was big news. It was soon after I'd graduated from high school. Who knew?! Even growing up near the tail end of the Cold War, it was hard to see that coming. I seem to distinctly recall having a great deal of healthy skepticism for all that was "officially" taught about Soviet bloc countries being "enemies"...seemed to me that cheesy though they were, artists such as Sting or even (gasp) Elton John had a greater grasp on the situation in the '80s with their songs (and videos) such as "Russians" and "Nikita". The humanization of the opposing side was taking place. And clearly, why would anyone think that the peoples living under Soviet rule were happy with the situation merely be virtue of being there?

    I also remember my junior/senior high French teacher, Mr. Porkka, tell us the tale of his visit to Berlin during the Cold War. Amid the paranoia and suspicion at Checkpoint Charlie, crossing into the East section sounded rather frightful. The worst of it, according to him, was that the guards suspected his wire clothes-line, a useful tool for any budget conscious backpacker, was actually a transmission device to be used once behind the curtain. Imagine!
    Of course, I think of that from time to time while doing what I will lovingly call "the strip-tease" at any given airport these days. Oooh, my shampoo bottle is really far more sinister than split ends!
    Sigh...times change...but do we learn anything from it?

  2. For those of us who lived long before the Berlin Wall there were serious issues between east and west. The falling of the wall was of real significance. It meant far more than just a check point.