Today is the 20th anniversary of the falling of the Berlin Wall. It signified the end of the Cold War and the reunification of Germany.
I was fortunate enough to be in Berlin, Germany back in 2001. Heading out for a walk one afternoon I wandered towards the Brandenburg Gate, the entry point for the former East Germany. Walking through the gate I was overcome by an onslaught of memories originating from the Cold War – from the space race to the East Germans who used to rule the Olympics. This onslaught was prompted, in part, when I noticed the landscape had immediately changed from colorful to stark. No pots in the window sills, no flowers, drab colors, no hustle and bustle like there was just a quarter-mile to the west. Just as I was told as a kid. Even 12 years after the Wall came down the old East Germany looked the same.
I was headed to one of the several small museums over by Checkpoint Charlie in the old American Sector when from behind me I heard a siren. My heart just about leaped through my throat. I was an American on the loose in East Germany and they were after me! Needless to say, that reaction was indicative of how absorbed I was in the moment.
Making it to the Haus am Checkpoint Charlie I was struck by the stories of planned escape from the east, including the young man who had his brother weld him into a false gas tank of a VW Beetle. I love historical museums and stayed as long as I could before heading over to see the Wall.
The Berlin Wall itself was a mere remnant of old, but an original section was still very prominent and covered with graffiti from the day the Wall fell. Not understanding German I wondered how many individual stories were depicted in the graffiti. The feeling I had walking along the Wall was very moving, a real sense of history beneath my feet. I could only imagine what the Wall meant to those who lived in Berlin during that period and it’s symbolism to millions around the world. A number of exhibits along the Wall told a profound story of what it was like living with the Wall from 1961-1990. Growing up during the Cold War it was one surreal experience I’ll never forget.