Today is the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. For over 25 years a city existed within the confines of a wall that encircled it, keeping its residents in and everyone else out. Travel to and from West Berlin was only permitted through applications and documents. The Wall was a symbol of the Cold War and a grim reminder of the differences in lifestyle from East to West.
Now for a short history lesson: Following World War II, the defeated country of Germany was divided into four sections and governed by the Allied Control Council or Allied Control Authority, the Alliierter Kontrollrat, a military governing authority. The members were the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union. France was later added with one vote, but no duties. As was the country divided, so too was the capitol city, Berlin. Berlin was well within the Soviet controlled section known later as East Germany. When the Soviets and East Germans erected a wall around the portions of Berlin governed by the Americans, Brits, and French, West Berlin was isolated from West Germany. Armed guards patrolled the wall and the checkpoints going in and out of West Berlin.
Berlin was a divided city in 1983 when I moved there as a military dependent. My mother was terrified when we announced that we were taking her two young grandchildren “behind the iron curtain.” Now there’s a term I haven’t heard in a good while. In truth, while we were excited to go on the adventure, it took me several weeks after we had settled in to get up the courage to actually go look at the Wall. Soon, going to the Wall, or even hiking the trails around it were as common as going to Como Park is now.
During our time there, the political climate was relatively calm and we traveled back and forth into East Berlin fairly often. While we lived a relatively normal lifestyle, getting “Flag Orders” every time we wanted to travel outside the city was an inconvenience. Taking a bus was much easier than getting clearance to drive our own car (not to mention the difficulties surrounding trying to park). The exchange rate was embarrassingly high, and Americans were welcomed by the shopkeepers in the East for all the money we spent. While they claimed to be Communist, capitalism wasn’t so far removed. Bus drivers who drove through Checkpoint Charlie often played “God Bless the USA” or “Born in the USA” as we passed through — with the windows open.
One very tragic incident in 1985 affected us personally, when Major Arthur Nicholson was killed in the line of duty. His daughter Jennifer was in my son’s class. We were also there when President Reagan cried “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” at the Brandenburg Gate.
Shortly after we moved from Berlin to Maine, I was overwhelmed with emotion as I watched throngs of East Berliners pour through the torn down wall. I feel that way yet.