Today, twenty years ago, the Berlin wall fell.
I was thirteen at the time and I remember seeing the news on TV. But because my family lived in the far western part of (West) Germany, close to the Dutch border, I think I didn’t really understand how huge this was.
Yes, of course, I knew about the “two Germanys” (even though I think I got the full picture – historically – a couple of years later in my history class at school) and I did understand that something “life-changing” was happening, but since I didn’t have any personal connection to East Germany (no relatives, no family friends) and we didn’t live close enough to the border, I felt like a spectator more than a “part” of the happenings.
I recall a story that my uncle told me once. He used to be a professional soccer player (hey, I didn’t even know there was a Wikipedia entry about him :)) and he was recruited by Tennis Borussia Berlin between 1976-1979.
He lived in West Berlin for 3 years and told me about how the Autobahn to (West) Berlin, the only way to get there, was lined with high barbed wire fences and there was only one way to go, which was forward. If you stopped on the Autobahn to (West) Berlin, you acted suspiciously and could have easily been detained.
I didn’t visit Berlin for a long time after the wall came down, frankly because I didn’t have any reason to go there. My first visit was in 2000, when my then-boyfriend and I drove to Berlin to see a concert at the Parkbühne Wuhlheide, a venue in the Eastern part of Berlin. Even 11 years after the fall of the wall, there were still visible differences between the two parts of the city.
I have a lot of friends now that grew up and used to live in East Germany and I’ve visited the united Berlin a couple of times since 2000.
I am so very grateful for having those wonderful people in my life, and for that – admittedly selfish reason – alone it was worth for the Berlin wall to come down.
When I watch movies about East Germany (two German movies I want need to recommend, if you haven’t seen them yet, are “Goodbye Lenin” and “The Lives of Others“), I find it hard to believe that that was the reality behind the wall… the spying on people, the censorship on literature and other media.
On the other hand, I can understand that at first, it must have been very frightening and surreal for many East Germans to believe that they could actually cross the border into West Germany and by no means has the reunification been an easy one.
However, it still is one of the historic milestones of my country.