Today, I find myself thinking about the Berlin Wall coming down 20 years ago. I was a senior in high school, and the event felt significant to me. I suppose a number of factors had contributed to the sense of exaltation and relief I had felt at the time.
First, I believe there is an innate understanding that human spirit wants to be free.
Second, some of my early memories about the Wall and the Iron Curtain came during my middle school years. Does anyone else remember watching the film “Night Crossing?” (It was projected in my middle school’s gymnasium one day.) Based on a true story, two East German families built a hot-air balloon so they could escape to West Germany. I was probably 11 years old at the time.
Third, I recall reading stories about East Germans who died in their escape attempts to cross the Wall. It was probably a book I was browsing through in the library, but the haunting photos of death and barbed wire are indelible in my memory. A google search turned up the 1962 story of Peter Fechter, who bled to death at the base of the wall, after being shot by East German guards as he tried to escape.
Additionally, I was a child of the Reagan Cold War era. And the Berlin Wall stood as a symbol of that divide between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. There were countless movies that drew their inspiration from that conflict. Nuclear war was something still on people’s minds; there was a controversial television movie named “The Day After,” which was broadcast in the mid-1980s.
Thinking about the years after the wall came down, I recall my first visit to Germany in 1996. I toured the museum at Checkpoint Charlie. I walked in former East Berlin. I went to a flea market in Mitte, where I saw relics of the cold war for sale: communist-era telephones and radios, etc. I remember seeing bullet holes in the oldest buildings. And I recall all the cranes, and the construction taking place in the East, particularly in the Potsdamer Platz area of the city. When I returned to Germany in 2006, I was impressed with the results of all that construction I had seen 10 years earlier. Twenty years has brought a lot of change.
Anyway, take this moment to remember a day when two halves re-united, when two parts became whole again. Here’s to the celebration of freedom and the persistence of human spirit which yearns to be free.