Helping children develop their American and native cultural identities together.

Remembering the Fall of the Berlin Wall

Posted by bububooks on November 6, 2009

This Monday, November 6, will mark the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.  I was ten years old and living in Europe. My father, an Army soldier, was stationed at Schweinfurt, West Germany, not far from the border with East Germany.  I was in Mr. Ike’s fifth grade class in a Department of Defense school.  I can’t say I remember the day the wall fell, but I certainly remember the trip my family took to Berlin the following February.

Growing up in Germany as a military brat, we were all acutely aware of the Cold War and its implications. Sort of. I thought the Iron Curtain was a real, physical wall between Western and Eastern Europe.  So when we crossed into East Germany on our drive up to Berlin, I was a little surprised to find our entrance so easy and with no wall keeping us out.  I had expected long and scary inspections only to find the entrance so easy that I don’t even remember it.  I also expected East Germany to be a very poor place. Yet on the drive to Berlin, it didn’t look all that different from West Germany (we were driving through rural areas and not through any towns).  I don’t know if that road was designed specifically for Westerners heading to Berlin and if that is why we didn’t see much on our drive.

Once we arrived in Berlin, I remember being struck by the differences on each side of the wall…literally.  The western side was covered in graffiti and already had vendors selling bags fill with chunks of the wall (who knows if they were even real pieces).  The eastern side was pristine, as if it had never been touched.  We didn’t have a hammer and chisel to break off a piece of the wall. We did pull off some crumbs from a hole that had already been created.  Through the hole, I saw the steel bars still in place, holding the wall strong all those years. And I saw an East German guard in his full uniform. My initial reaction was the fear that had been ingrained in me. He was tall (towering to a ten-year-old) and broad-shouldered. He wore his full winter gear including the well-known hat. I looked at him, a little nervous, as I pulled off the crumbs. But he didn’t do anything, just looked at me. He wore no expression on his face, but at that moment, I knew life as we knew it had changed.

Later, my father pointed out Checkpoint Charlie and how it had closed. People could go in and out freely. We headed into East Berlin.  All I really remember from that was our loads of shopping!

Later, because Schweinfurt was so close to the East German border, many East German cars—distinguishable by their size and features—popped up in our town.  While the changes in Germany appeared sudden and drastic, the Cold War would last for several more years. Indeed, during that summer of 1990, we flew to South Korea to spend the summer with my mother’s family.  At that time, however, Korean Airlines did not fly over the Soviet Union.  We had to fly around the world in what would be a 23-hour flight, which included a brief stop in Anchorage to refuel the plane.

Even though the flight was exhausting, I am grateful I got to experience these moments in history first hand. It has affected my outlook on life in that I know the American view isn’t the only view.  The world has changed a lot since fall of the Berlin Wall, but its message still rings true.  The will of the people, at some point or another, will find a way to prevail.


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