The hoopla (much deserved – it’s one of the most interesting and singular moments of our time, the fall of the Berlin Wall) over the anniversary of the fall of the Wall brings to my mind one of those stories that I have told my kids (over and over, I am afraid).
When my girls were in school, they did the time-honored show and tell bit. One of the things they took was some crumbling remains of the Berlin Wall. Not the Wall that fell in 1989 but rather pieces of the first “wall” that was hastily put up in 1961 and was re-built by the East Germans in the mid-1960’s.
I grew up in the Air Force, and my father was stationed in Wiesbaden from 1963 through 1966. On one of our family vacations, we did the tourist thing and went to West Berlin. In the 1960’s, this was quite the exciting trip for a 10 year old. You traveled by train and at night, supposedly so that travelers could not see all the top-secret stuff going on in East Germany. That gave the train ride an air of suspense and excitement.
While in West Berlin, we did the usual tourist stops – Checkpoint Charlie, the Brandenberg Gate, the War Memorial in East Berlin (even then an impressive monument to a 10 year old), and some other sites I do not recall very clearly. But the most memorable event was when our bus stopped along the border between East and West (it was nothing more than a city street) where the Wall was being re-built. Along the curb was a low-hanging chain that, we were told, was the boundary – step over it and you were in East Berlin. Of course, the adults on the bus (my parents included) wanted some chunks of the wall as souvenirs, but these pieces laid on the other (wrong, East) side of the chain. They were intimidated by the (armed) East German guards, who might do something to anyone who crossed the border without permission.
So what do my parents do? Of course, they send the 10 year old kid (ME!) to hop the chain and pick up some chunks of the wall. Surely the guards wouldn’t do anything to a kid, would they? Well, they didn’t (although I believe I remember some smiles that likely were the poorly-concealed laughter the guards probably were having at the adults’ expense). I retrieved some souvenirs and had quite the adventure. And a memory that I revel in passing along (too many times, H & A will tell me).